College Town festival selections shine light on the indie film industry

Box office admissions have seen a fairly steady decline in recent years. In the United States, ticket sales decreased from 1.57 billion in 2002 to 1.36 in 2012, according to data released by the National Association of Theatre Owners.

“So what?” you might say. “Those Junior Mints are way overpriced.”

If folks aren’t going to Hollywood blockbusters, they’re likely not going to smaller-budget independent films. And that, according to Matthew Jordan, associate professor of film/video and media studies at Penn State, is something people should care about.

It’s one of the reasons Jordan moonlights as president of the board of directors for the College Town Film Festival, which hits Happy Valley for the second year running April 16-19. The festival’s URL — saveindiefilm.com — says it all.

“We want to teach a new generation that isn’t doing films right now that these are worth seeing,” Jordan said, citing film’s importance as a catalyst for dialogue about social and cultural issues. “Indie films do this just as well as — if not better than — mainstream.”

The cluster of indie flicks comprising this year’s festival certainly seem to fit the bill. From “Twilight of the Gods,” a feature film by director Julian Doyle (of Monty Python fame), to a smart collection of international shorts, there’s plenty to choose from for both casual movie-goers and serious film buffs.

One of the features, “Ripped!” was born in Happy Valley. A Ma and Pa Productions film, the so-called juke-box musical was produced and directed by Penn State senior lecturers Rod Bingaman and Maura Shea. Filmed on and around Penn State’s campus during the summers of 2011 and 2012, “Ripped!” is a “comedy sci-fi musical about a chimpanzee who accidentally blasts 1960s pop group Norman’s Normans to the planet Hormone, where their catchy tunes bring about an intergalactic mission of groovy diplomacy.”

Bingaman and Shea look forward to sharing their film with a local audience, especially one that’s watching in a theater, as opposed to streaming on a laptop.

“There’s still so much to be said for the communal experience of going to the theater,” Shea said. “It’s a fun hour and a half where you kind of give into the film, instead of watching it in short clips or on a little screen.”