Penn State

Film tells the story of connections student made abroad

Jacob Hatfield set out to make a documentary about his grandfather’s experiences in Japan but came back with a story that was uniquely his own.

If that logline sounds like the stuff awards season is made of, well then that would probably sit jut fine with the Penn State senior, who has been named one of three finalists in the IES Abroad Study Abroad Film Festival.

Really, though, he’s just happy that his project found an audience.

“That’s really the most I can ask for,” Hatfield said.

Audiences can stream each of the shorts on the IES Abroad Facebook page and then cast a vote for the one they think should take home the top honors.

A jury of editors, directors, producers and screenwriters has already done most of the heavy lifting, whittling the master list of all 93 entries down to a more condensed queue that includes Hatfield’s “Sapporo.”

“This was a story I really wanted to tell,” Hatfield said.

He got his chance in fall 2016, when the filmmaker chose to take a semester abroad in Japan.

It didn’t dawn on me that the people I was going to be spending time with would really be the shapers of the experience.

Jacob Hatfield

Hatfield’s grandfather had been stationed there with the Navy during the Korean War. Any stories that he may have accumulated rarely trickled their way down the family tree.

“The interest actually came from more from him not telling me stories,” Hatfield said.

Grandpa’s lips were a bit looser when it came to travel recommendations. Tokyo made the cut — but he also singled out the Japanese city of Sapporo, an island capital that you might know for its beer or snow festivals.

There, Hatfield found foot-traffic, towering buildings and all of the other trappings of a modern metropolis. Visually impressive, sure, but not the family touchstone he had been hoping to get on film.

Instead, the frames that linger in “Sapporo” are hung on a face — the teasing girlfriend, a gallery of strangers turned classmates turned friends.

“It didn’t dawn on me that the people I was going to be spending time with would really be the shapers of the experience,” Hatfield said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready