‘A People’s Contest’ Film Debuts at the American Civil War Museum

By Annie Tobey | June 15th, 2022

New state-of-the-art film joins museum exhibits and two in-depth web ‘exhibits’

Screenshot from film of soldier watching as Richmond, Virginia, burns at the end of the Civil War. The American Civil War Museum film “A People’s Contest: America’s Civil War & Emancipation” uses state-of-the-art technology to cover the war.

Presenting 150-year-old history doesn’t mean using 150-year-old presentation methods. In fact, a new film at the American Civil War Museum, “A People’s Contest: America’s Civil War & Emancipation,” uses contemporary technology to cover the nation’s most devastating war in under 13 minutes. The technology absolutely helps.

The film, presented in the newly finished Robins Theater, is designed to complement the museum’s permanent flagship exhibit, “A People’s Contest: Struggles for Nation & Freedom in Civil War America,” which conveys the story of the war from multiple perspectives. The theater’s location at the start of the exhibit provides an informative and inspiring prelude.

New digs for the American Civil War Museum

The making of the ACWM exhibit

While the film takes a big picture look at the war, it highlights the Richmond experience and members of the United States Color Troops. The film and the exhibit explore themes such as:

  • The causes of the Civil War
  • The stakes: for the young first-ever democratic nation, for the four million people in slavery, for the citizens of the U.S., and for the soldiers on both sides
  • The costs and consequences of the war: lives, expectations, outcomes, and lingering questions
  • The parallels between U.S. history and current culture

During the months when the pandemic shuttered the museum doors, ACWM created virtual materials for use by teachers, parents, and the public. Two in-depth information websites include

  • OnMonumentAve.com, examining the history of Richmond’s Monument Avenue and its statues.
  • HouseOfTheLostCause.com, exploring the Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War and the Confederate experience, then and now.

‘A People’s Contest’ film creation

The theater and the film were designed in partnership with Solid Light, Inc. using state-of-the-art technology in video and audio components. The museum did an admirable job condensing Civil War history into 13 minutes, and the technology absolutely helps: dual projection presents on two overlying screens, allowing for an amazing, ever-changing display of images and action. One viewing of the film is impressive enough, while two viewings present a more comprehensive understanding.

Like the museum’s flagship exhibit, the film includes voices from the range of people affected by the war, from Confederate generals and soldiers’ families, to African American soldiers and enslaved Blacks, to President Abraham Lincoln. Narration is supported by historical quotes, historical photos, archival materials, and stories.

To ensure accuracy and resonance, the ACWM showed the film during its creation to experts on the era’s history, including historian Edward Ayers and representatives of the U.S. National Park Service national battlefield parks and Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, as well as more scholars, teachers, and others.

See for yourself

The Robins Theater will open to the public on June 17, 2022. Daily showings of the original film “A People’s Contest: America’s Civil War and Emancipation” will be available to ACWM visitors as part of their museum experience.

The American Civil War Museum
480 Tredegar Street

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