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A Community of Film Makers

It started out in 2009 as a class in community-based film making, but close to a decade later, associate professor Kevin Boon’s Mont Alto Project has three movies under its belt. The first two, Two Days Back and Ghosting, each won awards, and the third, a crime thriller entitled A Host of Sparrows, will premiere on July 7 at the Capitol Theatre in Chambersburg, Pa. It is Boon’s biggest project to date, he says, but like his other films, what’s most important about A Host of Sparrows is the “glory of the community feel” that is at its heart, and the way in which it has brought a dedicated group of people together.

“Everyone made huge sacrifices to come back and work on the film,” says Boon, an associate professor at Penn State Mont Alto who teaches creative writing and film making, among others.

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Kevin Boon’s Mont Alto project has resulted in three feature films. A Host of Sparrows premieres on July 7. 

 

Those involved include alums Edwin Koester ’09 Com (cinematographer), Gillian Colley ’17 LAS MtAlt (producer) and crew member Allen Cramm ’15 Com. “Many people who were involved in the first film have graduated and moved on,” Boon says, “but they came back to work on A Host of Sparrows.  We filmed in many counties in Pennsylvania, Maryland, where people let us use their property—they are a part of this, too.”

When Boon first offered the Mont Alto Project as a four-semester course in 2009, 15 students signed up. The 11 remaining at the end learned every aspect of film making, from pre- to post-production—and became hooked to the craft.

“My original vision was that we should make a movie the way movies are actually made,” Boon says, “and that meant keeping only the strong ideas, getting rid of the weaker ones. It meant putting people in roles where they had the greatest strength. But even though these movies are made on the kind of budget that most films spend on doughnuts, the important thing is that everyone gets a say, everyone has an input, and everyone is important.”

Among others, Two Days Back won the Best Feature award at the 2011 Bare Bones International Film Festival, which showcases movies made with budgets of less than $1 million, while Ghosting won for Best Feature at the 2015 Philadelphia Independent Film Festival, and bagged the Best Director award at the 2015 World Music & Independent Film Festival in Washington, D.C. The movie was also nominated for Best Horror Feature at the 2015 I Filmmaker International Film Festival in Marbella, Spain, and was shown at the Golden Door Film Festival in New Jersey, which is run by the Sorvino family.

A Host of Sparrows is currently in post-production and Boon will soon put it on the festival circuit. But what’s most important to him is the unique nature of the Mont Alto Project, and the effect it has had on those who participate in the film making process.

“I remember one moment during a screening of our first film when a mother and grandmother came up to me and said the project had turned their son and grandson around,” he says. “He is now working now as an associate producer in Hollywood. I love seeing people who were shy at first in class come out of their shell, people who by the end, are dancing and having a great time. I really love that part.” —Savita Iyer

 

 

 

 

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July 6, 2018 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Call for Stories: Your Most Memorable Penn State Classes

Last week, my son attended New Student Orientation at University Park. He spent the night in a dorm and came home super excited about the plethora of incredible classes he can choose from over the course of his four years at Penn State.

Here at The Penn Stater magazine, we are collecting stories from alumni about their most memorable classes, and we’d love to hear from you.

Was there an elective that changed your life and set you off on a completely different career path from the one you thought you’d be on? Were you inspired—or the opposite—by a particular professor? Or, maybe you met your future spouse in one of your classes. We want to know!

Please send your stories to: heypennstater@psu.edu or mail them to: The Penn Stater magazine, Hintz Family Alumni Center, University Park, PA 16802.

Deadline: July 1. No more than 250 words, please. We’ll publish the best tales in an upcoming issue.

We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

May 29, 2018 at 9:29 am Leave a comment

A Fitting Community Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.

One year before he was assassinated in Memphis, TN., Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. rented a house in Jamaica and penned a final manuscript entitled “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?”
Last night at the Eisenhower Auditorium, on the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, the answer was clearly “community.”

In a glorious and moving tribute to King’s life and legacy, put together by music professor Anthony Leach ’82 MMus, ’96 PhD A&A and Russell Shelley ’97 DEd A&A, six choirs took the stage in turn to perform a number of much-loved songs. They included the iconic anthem “We Shall Overcome,” and Leach’s original arrangement of the beloved gospel “This Li’l Light of Mine,” for which the Penn State Glee Club (conducted by Christopher Kiver, director of choral activities); Essence of Joy and Essence 2 Ltd (both conducted by Leach); The State College High School Master Singers (conducted by Erik Clayton ’06 A&A, ’08 MU Ed); the State College Choral Society and the Juniata College Concert Choir (both conducted by Shelley) crowded together on the stage in a grand finale.

Leach—who was featured in our Sept./Oct. 2017 issue—expressed hope that the community spirit would continue here at Penn State and beyond. The much-loved choir director, who came to Penn State as a graduate student and founded Essence of Joy and Essence 2 Ltd.—will retire shortly.

On January 21, 1965, Dr. King addressed a crowd of 8,000 people at Rec Hall on the University Park campus. Those who were unable to get a ticket listened to his speech on Penn State’s first student radio station, WDFM, which broadcast it live.

King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. He was 39 years old.  —Savita Iyer     MLK image

April 5, 2018 at 10:42 am 2 comments

Talking About a Functioning Democracy

A functioning democracy is a work in progress with many moving parts, one of the most important being vibrant debate and discussion.

That’s just what political science professor Michael Berkman, director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State, and Jenna Spinelle, the Institute’s communications specialist, are hoping to encourage with a new podcast series entitled “Democracy Works”

The series—which will air weekly at https://www.democracyworkspodcast.com, and can also be found on Itunes, Google Play and Stitcher—will look at the many issues impacting democracy, and how they work together, through discussions with Penn State faculty, alumni, and guest speakers.

“There are so many overtly partisan podcasts out there—we saw a niche that we could fill by stepping back from the daily news cycle to look at the bigger issues in a democracy, and what different people are doing to make democracy work,” says Spinelle.

“We’re not coming at those issues from a partisan perspective or playing pundits,” Berkman says. “We’re just talking to people about the work they are doing, and putting that in a larger context so that we can all understand what a functioning democracy is.”

Berkman and Spinelle say they were greatly inspired by Pennsylvania’s iron and steel workers: “They came together to build something bigger and better. Similarly, each of us has a role to play in building and sustaining a healthy democracy,” Berkman says.

Upcoming podcast episodes include a conversation with Daniel Ziblatt, associate professor of government and social studies at Harvard, about his recent book How Democracies Die, and interviews with students at State College Area High School who attended the recent “March for Our Lives” event in Washington, D.C..

The Democracy Works Team invites anyone from the broader Penn State community who has an idea for an episode, or who would like to speak to any aspect of democracy, to contact them at democracyInst@psu.edu.

“We know that there are so many great Penn State alums doing interesting work that we don’t even know about, so we encourage people to come in,” Spinelle says. — Savita Iyer

 

Democracy Works Logo

 

April 3, 2018 at 3:04 pm 2 comments

When Truckers Fight Trafficking

The Freeman Project House on the south side of Columbus, Ohio, looks like any other house. Yet it is distinct from the other homes on the street because it’s been set up to serve as a refuge for female survivors of human trafficking, as a place to help them get a fresh start in life.

The home—which will welcome its first residents this summer—was founded by Barbara Freeman, a survivor of trafficking and a great source of inspiration for Pearl Gluck’s latest movie, The Turn Out.

The feature-length film—which has its world premiere tomorrow at the Columbus International Film & Animation Festival—sheds light on human trafficking at truck stops across the U.S., a huge and underreported problem. Gluck, an assistant professor of film and media studies in the Bellisario College of Communications, fears it could only get worse going forward.

“Wherever you have drugs and addiction, everywhere that young people aren’t being given educational opportunities and where they lack stable environments, and wherever there is prostitution, there is trafficking,” she says. “Predators are everywhere— they’re looking at everyone and at vulnerabilities from homelessness to lack of love. They’re watching what your kids put on Instagram.”

Behind the Scenes Turn Out

Pearl Gluck (center) with actors on the set of The Turn Out

The Turn Out is told from the point of view of a trucker whose active role in a domestic sex trafficking ring rises up to haunt him when he engages with an underage victim. More often than not, victims of trafficking are transported across the country on trucks, but many people are not aware of the fact that truckers are also important players in the fight against trafficking, Gluck says.

“We like to point our fingers at truckers— but they’re on the road, they really see what’s going on, and I wanted people to know that many truckers are actually every day heroes in the fight against trafficking,” she says. “The organization Truckers Against Trafficking trains truckers to observe what’s going on when they’re on the road, to ask someone they think might be a trafficking victim how old they are and whether they’re where they are of their own volition, and to generally report any activity they find suspicious.”

For The Turn Out, Gluck interviewed truckers, lawyers, police officers and many others who are working to end trafficking. She also spoke to multiple survivors, who shared their painful stories with her.

“The trafficking network in this country is vast and it encompasses everything from intricate, nationwide networks run by gangs, to smaller networks that start in the home,” she says.

According to Polaris, the leading organization working against global trafficking, reports of human trafficking increase every year here in the U.S. In 2016, over 8,000 cases were reported, most of which were sex-trafficking cases of underage girls and boys. The average age of a child tricked into prostitution and trafficked is 13.

Gluck hopes more states will take a cue from Ohio and the work done by State Representative Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo), a strong voice in the fight against human trafficking for the past 15 years. Fedor is the architect of the 2014 End Demand Act that, among others, broadened Ohio’s definition of trafficking and increased the penalty of purchasing sex from a minor from a misdemeanor to a felony. She also hopes that more states will create CATCH Courts, which were started in 2009 by Judge Paul Herbert in Columbus as a way to provide victims of trafficking forced into prostitution with a path of rehabilitation, recovery, and support.

The Turn Out is set to premier this week. Gluck has also written and directed Summer, a short film about two teenage girls at a Hassidic Jewish sleep-a-way camp, which premiered earlier this year at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s New York Jewish Film Festival; and Where is Joel Baum?, starring veteran actress Lynn Cohen. The movie won several awards, including best film at The Female Eye film festival.

Savita Iyer, senior editor

 

 

 

March 22, 2018 at 1:17 pm 3 comments

From Undocumented Immigrant to Immigration Reform Advocate

When she speaks at college campuses across the country, Julissa Arce is often asked why undocumented immigrants in the U.S. don’t do things the “right” way, why they can’t simply “get in the back of the line.”

Her answer is always the same: If there was a right way to come here, if there was indeed a “line” to stand in, then that is where undocumented immigrants would be. That’s where Arce—a former Wall Street executive who came to the U.S. from Mexico with her parents when she was 11 years old, and lived and worked here undocumented for more than a decade—would have happily stood. Unfortunately, “the line is a mythical place,” she says, because contrary to what many believe, there are very few ways for people to legally emigrate to the U.S.

Julissa 1

Arce—who spoke earlier today as part of the Penn State Forum series at the Nittany Lion Inn—considers herself “lucky” as far as undocumented immigrants go. Her parents brought her into the U.S. by plane and on a valid tourist visa, and that made things easier for her years later when she married her American boyfriend and applied for a green card, before becoming a U.S. citizen in 2014. But for Arce, the relative ease of the final administrative processes can never erase the torment of being undocumented, of waiting in stomach-churning fear for the authorities to get wind of her status, realize that her social security number and green card were fake. When would they come for her, Arce wondered almost every day, as she successfully completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at Austin (she began studying there the year Texas passed a law allowing noncitizens, including some undocumented immigrants, to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges), completed internships at Goldman Sachs in New York City, and accepted a full-time job with the firm, rising through the ranks quickly to become vice president?

Inevitably, the ax fell when Arce had every piece of the American dream she’d always wanted, with a phone call informing her that her dad (her parents returned to Mexico when she started college) was seriously ill.

“My mother begged me not to go,” she said, because her undocumented status meant Arce would not be allowed to re-enter the U.S., “but I knew if I did not go, I would never be able to live with myself. Anyway, while I agonized about whether to go or not, my dad died. That was the cost.”

Everyday across the U.S., undocumented immigrants are facing similar dilemmas, Arce—who quit her job at Goldman Sachs after she got her green card—says, and having to take difficult decisions with painful consequences.

Since revealing her incredible story in 2015, she’s been a tireless advocate for proper immigration policy—particularly as it pertains to Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. She is chairman of the board of the Ascend Educational Fund, a New York-based organization that provides educational scholarships and mentoring to young, undocumented immigrants who want to go to college.

“Education was my way up and I’d like for others to have the same opportunity,” she said. “That’s what we come here for—opportunity.”

Arce’s 2016 memoir, “My (Underground) American Dream” has been adapted into a television miniseries starring actor America Ferrera.

Savita Iyer, senior editor

In the May/June issue of the Penn Stater, we’ll feature interviews with experts from across the university on the topic of immigration.  

March 20, 2018 at 4:33 pm Leave a comment

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