ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — When we last left Mark Hildebrand, he was at war.
The filmmaker was gathering background footage for a documentary at a War of 1812 encampment in Prince George's County last summer.
None of the scenes made it into "Anthem," Hildebrand's tribute to "The Star-Spangled Banner," but at least he's mostly finished the hour-long film after two years of work.
The filmmaker just needs to make a few tweaks to the documentary before it's complete. He's been showing a rough cut of the film to historical groups, officials and television executives. "Every time I see the film, I take about 30 notes of things I want to fix," he said.
But those who've seen the draft were plenty impressed.
"I thought it was very well done," said St. John's College President Chris Nelson. "I learned things I didn't know."
This is saying something, since St. John's is steeped in the history of the anthem's author, Francis Scott Key. Nelson has Key's writing desk in his office at the college, which Key graduated from in 1796, and the auditorium is named after him.
"I found myself, more than ever, appreciating the power of the National Anthem," said Nelson, who hopes to host a screening of the documentary at the college.
"Anthem" has already secured an airing on Maryland Public Television, as well as national broadcasts through American Public Television, said Hildebrand, who grew up in Annapolis. No dates have been chosen yet.
"MPT is delighted to be the distributor for this historically important and timely film on the National Anthem," said Steven Schupak, chief content officer for the station. "What is truly impressive is the level of scholarly expertise the filmmakers and guest subjects brought to the program. We expect this will be one of the most trusted and valued programs on the National Anthem."
Besides the obvious ties to Baltimore, since Key was inspired by the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British during the War of 1812, "Anthem" is a who's who of Annapolis luminaries and locations.
The St. John's chorus sings "The Anacreontic Song," while the Naval Academy Glee Club performs the anthem. Key set his lyrics for "The Star-Spangled Banner" to the melody from the theme song for an English gentlemen's club known as The Anacreontic Society.
Gov. Martin O'Malley is featured extensively, filmed at Fort McHenry, and he sings during the credits. Other scenes were filmed at the Sly Fox Pub in Annapolis and many local actors make an appearance.
One of the experts in the film is Hildebrand's older brother, David, who is an authority on early American music. His wife, Ginger, also discusses music in the movie.
"Anthem" traces not only the history of the war, but the history of music in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It puts Key's composition into context, explaining it was common for songs to share melodies.
The film also points out Key wrote a song about a decade earlier which featured the phrase "star-spangled flag." ''I'm extremely pleased it covers so much territory," said David, who lives in Severna Park.
The Hildebrands are collaborating on a soundtrack for the film, and David is also putting out a double CD on the music of the War of 1812. The genesis of the film was an outgrowth of a study of the topic by himself and his wife.
Another expert with a prominent role in the film is historian Ralph Eshelman, author of "The War of 1812 in the Chesapeake." Eshelman and the Hildebrands were the core people involved with the project.
The more academic portions of the film are mixed with interactive maps and singing performances. John Guild, president and chief executive officer of the Historic Annapolis Foundation, said the formula works.
"I thought it was fantastic; well-researched, thoughtful and very informative," he said. "For a documentary... it was very, very enjoyable and entertaining."
Coming into focus
"Anthem" is Hildebrand's first major project with his nonprofit Make Your Mark Media — and a labor of love.
"I love history and I love music," he said. "I wasn't that educated on the War of 1812."
He didn't raise enough money to cover his costs, or to pay himself, but he pressed ahead anyway. The budget for the film was $150,000, with about a third still unfunded. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission was the largest donor.
Hildebrand filmed at locations across Maryland, as well an in England, gathering about 60 hours of footage. The stressful part, he said, was editing all the information.
Hildebrand hopes some of the material can eventually be used by public school teachers.
"Our challenge was to get people to understand why Key wrote the song, why it became popular and why it became the National Anthem," said Hildebrand, who serves as the film's narrator.
He's particularly proud the documentary dispels several misconceptions about Key and the war, such as:
Which flag flew over Fort McHenry when the British attacked. It was a small "storm" flag and not the giant garrison standard called "The Star-Spangled Banner.
How Key encountered the British. He was being held on a truce ship with the British fleet, after sailing down the Chesapeake for two days to find them so he could secure the release of a popular physician.
The fact that the anthem was always intended as a song and not a poem.
"Had Key's lyrics been merely a poem... they'd never convey the power of his thoughts," David Hildebrand said.
Key wrote the lyrics right after he was released from custody, according to the film, and almost immediately 1,000 copies were printed. Mark Hildebrand said they were printed as a broadside since newspapers were closed because of the attack.
The film concludes with the story of how the song became the National Anthem, a performance by the Naval Academy singers and a statement by O'Malley:
"...Is this still the land of the free and the home of the brave?" he asks. "Does that flag still fly over a courageous, giving, generous and brave people?... that's a question that each of us has the responsibility to answer in the story we choose to write as individuals and choose to write with our families in order to make our country a great republic for the future."