It’s also united three University of Virginia alumnae – famed broadcast journalist Katie Couric and filmmakers Erin Bernhardt and Din Blankenship – for a new documentary, with the working title “Clarkston: Mother of Exiles.”
The film, due out early next year, follows four unlikely friends: a Kurdish refugee now working as a cardiologist at Emory University, a nonagenarian Somalian who has created a new home in Clarkston, a high school valedictorian who fled Burma when she was 16, and, most unlikely of all, a former Klansman working to combat the hate-filled ideology he once espoused.
Bernhardt is the film’s director and producer, an Atlanta-based filmmaker and a former Peace Corps volunteer who has also volunteered with refugee resettlement organizations in Clarkston for more than a decade. Blankenship, the film’s producer, is an architectural designer-turned-filmmaker who spent much of her architecture career designing transitional shelters for refugees.
And, Couric is, well, Katie Couric. The longtime journalist has recently turned her attention to several documentary projects, including one, “America Inside Out with Katie Couric,” that addressed some of the same questions the Clarkston documentary centers on: How can we fight racism with welcome? How can we help people fleeing violence and oppression? How can America continue to function as a global melting pot?
All three alumnae felt that the people of Clarkson could help answer those questions. They wanted to tell their stories, and to counter the racism and hate they saw in news – especially during the violent “Unite the Right” rallies that brought white supremacist groups to Charlottesville two years ago.
“Seeing what happened in Charlottesville really shook me,” Bernhardt said. “I had been wanting to tell the story of Clarkston for a while, after volunteering there for several years, and it seemed like the perfect way to show the opposite of white supremacy – a community that really exemplifies welcome and love.”
A Chance UVA Meeting
Couric heard about Bernhardt and Blankenship’s film from Blankenship’s father, Ken Botsford, a friend of Couric’s at UVA.
“We ran into each other at a UVA event and he told me about what Erin and Din were working on,” said Couric, who at the time was working on an “America Inside Out” episode showing footage of the Charlottesville demonstrations. She decided to sign on as an executive producer, providing advice and oversight and using her many industry connections to promote the documentary and generate publicity.
“Part of my goal, in this phase of my career, is to continue to create purpose-driven content of all kinds and also help shine a light on younger people and bring attention to important issues that I think are not being discussed enough in the current media landscape,” she said. “Running into Ken was extraordinarily timely, and I knew I wanted to get involved in something that could promote understanding, compassion and acceptance, instead of further division.”