College Town Film Festival grows with quality, relevance

The College Town Film Festival is still young and developing, but it already has found its authoritative voice among its independent film contemporaries. While it may currently lack the prestige and name-recognition of the larger festivals such as Toronto, Tribeca and Sundance, it’s etching its own unique and intimate engraving into cinema’s tome via stops, screenings and workshops at some of the larger and more influential universities across the country.

This weekend, Penn State and State College will serve as the festival’s first stop of the year as organizers bring an immense collection and retrospective of all things celluloid to the State Theatre, and the Carnegie Cinema and Kern Building on campus.

“We’re happy with the number of filmmakers that we’ve been able to get to come in,” said Matt Jordan, associate professor of film, video and media studies at Penn State. “This is our first go-around, so we’re still kind of figuring out the bumps in the road, but we’re pretty happy with the people that we’ve managed to get in,” the CTFF board chairman added.

“We want to serve the filmmakers, engage the film students and faculty, and we want to create a relationship between the general audience and independent film,” said Eric Zudak, the CTFF’s founder. “There’s no place on Earth like a college town, it has a confluence of forces where there’s people interested in having conversations and discussions about art. I think that a college town provides the perfect platform for this kind of experiment, and State College is where we want to be.”

Writers, actors, documentary subjects and technicians will discuss their proficiency and experience in a highly frustrating but extremely rewarding field.

“We were pretty happy to get this film [“That’s What She Said”] with Carrie Preston (“The Good Wife,” “True Blood),” Jordan said. “She’s a pretty big name star and she’s going to be here for the whole festival. I’m also pretty excited about this documentary that we’re doing called ‘Too Cold Out There Without You.’ ... We’re going to have the principle (subject) of that film come down, so it’s going to be a pretty interesting event.”

“We can go from an extremely message-heavy documentary (“Too Cold Out There Without You”) to something that is sort of the independent film female answer to ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’ and all of those kind of raunchy comedies,” Zudak said while discussing that variety of films that are set to screen.

Screenings are the entire basis of a film festival, but the CTFF doubles as an outreach program that allows those in attendance to learn from and interact with the creators of what they just witnessed on screen.

“We’ve created a working relationship with the American Film Institute, who is interested in this as a vehicle for them to do recruiting amongst student filmmakers, so we set up this session on Saturday which will both be a presentation by Joseph Garrity who is the faculty at the American Film Institute Conservatory, who is also a production design guy,” Jordan said. “The thing that we’re most interested in is this outreach component of education development in terms of getting students in on the process, but also introducing them to independent film to broaden their tastes beyond the kind of stuff that gets in the normal distribution channels.”

Jordan said quality and professionalism of the films being screened is impeccable and has the ability to go round-for-round with any other film on the circuit.

“I think most people associate independent film with being amateur, looking grainy and not well-colorized,” he said. “But the films that we’ve chosen to screen are going to be good. They’re smart films, they’ll be thought-provoking and I think those in attendance will be pleasantly surprised.”