When one Googles “Penn State students are,” the top suggestions would be “idiots,” “stupid” and “sad.”
After last November’s riots and the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse case, Penn State students have been criticized by the media and the online masses. So Kelly Dolak, an alumna and filmmaker, decided to try and capture the struggles of students and the community during the past year. She wanted to see how different people dealt with the concept of loyalty amid this scandal.
Dolak, a professor at Ramapo College in New Jersey, is filming a documentary called “No Act of Ours,” which chronicles different perspectives of the case, including the passionate students, ones not interested in football, and many community members. She said there isn’t one “student perspective,” so it is imperative to capture every angle she could.
“It is unfortunate that Penn State students have been portrayed in a negative light and they feel like they’re being misunderstood,” Dolak said. “The film will show a more complex student.”
Dolak started filming in November and raised $15,000 to fund the project via the website Kickstart. She is following junior Kevin Horne from Williamsport and senior Ryan Beckler from Philadelphia, two editors at the student blog Onward State, and Cori Wong, a graduate philosophy student from Idaho. She is also interviewing many other community members and students.
Dolak still hasn’t decided whether to continue filming through the trials of former Penn State officials Gary Schultz and Tim Curley, set to begin in early January, and has more than 200 hours of footage. The footage is from the week of Nov. 9, Sandusky’s preliminary hearings and trials, the Freeh report release, and several weekends this fall.
Although Dolak attended Penn State, graduating in 1996 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, she said she never felt any extreme sense of school pride or loyalty. This has allowed her to remain objective during this process, she said.
“I feel like I can be as objective as any human being can,” she said. “I talk to one person and feel one way, then talk to somebody else and it changes my mind a little bit. I want to get a feel for the community.”
That feel for the community comes from all different people in the documentary, Dolak said.
Wong said her role is to provide a more critical perspective of students in the case, although she is just a subject of the film not directly involved in its production.
It’s not hard for Wong to be fair because, as a graduate student, she never had any ties or investment to the university. She attended Colorado State University for her undergraduate schooling and arrived at Penn State in 2008. Wong wrote a blog post that picked up steam on social media, and Dolak saw it and decided to make her a part of the film.
“I’m not quick to defend anybody,” Wong said. “My job isn’t to promote anyone.”
During the week of Nov. 9, 2011, when Sandusky was indicted on 45 counts of sexual abuse and late head football coach Joe Paterno was fired, Dolak said she realized this would be a big story. She ventured to State College with cameras to begin filming. She had a feeling, as a filmmaker, she needed to be a part of the story because it was going to be so big. Dolak got help from her film students and others to shoot, edit and plan the documentary.
“I really hope this film opens up conversation, and it doesn’t hold down any conversation,” Dolak said. “(This scandal) has divided people in a lot of ways. I don’t want it to be divisive. I want to make a lot of different opinions.”
Wong said she just wants everyone to look at some things differently. Whether it divides them, she said this film will offer different perspectives.
“I’m not trying to get one view,” Wong said. “We want meaningful discussion.”
Dolak said she plans to complete the film in April and enter it in film festivals across the country and world. She is applying for grants to help the cost of post-production and hopes the film is bought and sent to DVD and sites like Netflix after the festivals.
“The idea of it isn’t to make anyone look a certain way,” Dolak said. “It’s to show the struggle of loyalty by students.”
Steve Petrella is a journalism student at Penn State.