Arts Fest shifts focus for documentary film crew

July 13, 2013 

Spending a full year in State College working on our documentary film, “365 Days: A Year in Happy Valley” doesn’t mean we have cameras in our hands all the time.

In fact, most days are spent doing things other than filming. There are meetings. Lunches. Research. Pre-interviews. Fundraising events.

And lately, there has been editing. Lots and lots of editing. All from a farmhouse turned production facility in Spruce Creek.

If there was a time to be quiet on the filming front, summer would be it. Most of the students are home, working their summer jobs, swimming their summer swims, with the scandal surrounding the Penn State football program receding deeper and deeper into their collective memories with each passing 85-degree day.

All of which makes central Pennsylvania in July a rather sleepy place to be.

But this weekend, that all changed, as 125,000 people descended upon downtown State College in celebration of the arts. That’s a lot of extra bodies for a major metropolitan city, much less a town with an official population of fewer than 43,000.

While the sheer spectacle of that kind of crowd is worthy enough to capture on film, it also represents one side of a crucial theme to our story, “moving on.”

Whenever a community deals with tragedy of any kind, the language quickly turns to those two words. Makes sense, right? Nobody relishes the constant hurt of reliving painful memories. Given the choice, most people would pick living joyfully in the present over miserably in the past any day (on paper, anyway). Moving on seems only healthy.

But as soon as I arrived here from Austin, Texas, last September, I quickly learned that for every person who wants to put Jerry Sandusky and the board of trustees’ firing of Joe Paterno in the rearview mirror, there are just as many who want to right a perceived wrong. For this camp, moving on is a pejorative. (One subject we interviewed even went so far as to call those who want to move on as “gutless.”)

There can be no moving on without justice, they say. Reputations must be untarnished. Wins must be rerecognized. Sanctions must be overturned. And until those demands are met, achieving peace has proven to be very difficult, if not impossible.

For them, the only way to achieve that particular brand of justice is through litigation and a constant presence in the media. Both of which are lengthy, expensive processes and that are, by definition, the exact opposite of forgetting the past.

Then there’s the Arts Fest, which has happened like clockwork every summer since its inception in 1967. Personally, as a first-timer, I have been looking forward to feeling that kind of energy shift. We’ve spent so much time dissecting how State College responds to negative events over the past year that we sometimes overlook the living, breathing, positive community right under our noses.

For a few days anyway, it is a welcome change to film the yang to the scandal’s yin. As important as the lawsuit against the NCAA may be to the future and reputation of Penn State, there is just something healing and refreshing about seeing a community that is creating together rather than bickering with one another.

Or, as one Nebraska fan said of the scandal during our trip to film the game in Lincoln last season, “It’s still a big deal because Penn State is making it a big deal. Bad things happen everywhere.”

So this weekend, rather than film the raised fists and protest signs at a board of trustees meeting, we are capturing people from all over the world as they paint and sing and make music together.

Creativity takes center stage. We’re filming sculptors sculpting. Dancers dancing. Authors reading their works.

People are, simply, living. Just as they did before John Surma ever took to the podium on Nov. 9, 2011.

Erik Proulx is the director of the upcoming documentary film “365 Days: A Year in Happy Valley.”

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