STATE COLLEGE The results of filmmaker Erik Proulx’s year in State College hit the screen Friday with the words of Penn State hero and former Nittany Lion linebacker Michael Mauti, ousted president Graham Spanier and even the late coach Joe Paterno.
“365 Days: A Year in Happy Valley” premiered Friday evening to a packed State Theatre, filled with former Penn State players, university trustees, business leaders and others who lent their voices to the documentary.
Proulx, the director, and writer/producer Eric Porterfield told the story of a year in State College as it was mired in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal and alleged cover-up by former university officials.
The film jumps back and forward between several narratives that drive the plot, including Mauti’s journey, Penn State’s 2012 football season and Spanier’s life after the cover-up allegations. It also spends times considering whether the media rushed to judgment of Paterno for his handling of the incidents.
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Proulx said the documentary, his first full-length film, also has surprises.
“This isn’t a movie about judgment,” he said Friday, just hours before the film’s premiere. “This is a much more universal message. And I think that’s one of the things that will surprise people when they go to see it. It’s not necessarily what they think it’s going to be.
“And that’s good.”
Proulx described a “line in the sand” between those in the Penn State and State College communities who want to put it behind them and move on, and those who don’t believe the truth has been revealed and want to continue the fight.
“One of the hopes is that both sides can coexist,” Proulx said. “We can fight for the truth and move on.”
But Porterfield, who also produced the film “The Joe We Know,” said the creative team made some judgment calls. He was referring to how the film treats the national media, which he believes treated Paterno unfairly in the days and weeks after the Sandusky case came to light.
“Universally, they just got it so wrong that we have to call them out on it,” Porterfield said. “And we’re going to keep after them. We have to.”
Porterfield said producing a serious documentary was the only way he could think to address what he believes is lasting damage.
The film also features interviews with NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, outspoken Paterno supporter and former Nittany Lion Franco Harris, and others. Paterno appears in clips recorded before his death in January 2012.
The film does not, however, feature interviews with any Sandusky victims. The filmmakers said they were cognizant that their work may reopen wounds for the sexual abuse survivors.
They did interview Alycia Chambers, the therapist for one of Sandusky victims who raised a red flag about the former coach in 1998.
Sandusky was convicted in June 2012 of abusing 10 young boys and was sentenced to serve 30 to 60 years in prison. Former top administrators, including Spanier, are awaiting trial on charges they covered up the abuse and lied to an investigating grand jury.
The men maintain their innocence.
Proulx, who lived in the region for more than a year while shooting the movie, said he believes it’s an accurate snapshot.
The film cost about $1 million to make, partly because of the talent involved in its production, according to Porterfield.
“We found the best people we could,” he said. “We knew if we had a local production we’d be called out immediately for just making a homer film.
“It’s hard to say if it’s a great film or not, but I think it is,” Porterfield said. “It’s certainly in the same class of films that documentary filmmakers want to see.”