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THON Documentary Debuts Thursday Night on WPSU-TV

by on September 27, 2012 2:07 PM

After collaborating on a documentary about the Penn State Blue Band, Emmy-winning documentarians Jeff Hughes and Cole Cullen immediately pursued another project.

Once they asked around the Penn State community, Hughes and Cullen heard one topic loud and clear: THON.

"We always look for stories that people are very passionate about, activities that change people's lives. People immediately said 'THON is a great story. We love THON. It would be great if somebody could capture the whole story of THON,'" Hughes said.

Two years of filming, editing and producing later, 'Why We Dance: The Story of THON," a 60-minute documentary detailing the story behind the two-day Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Council Dance Marathon, premiered on Friday at the State Theatre.

The initial two screenings included an invitation-only audience of VIP viewers and THON student volunteers.

The documentary will premiere 8 p.m. on Thursday on WPSU-TV and other public television stations across the state and simultaneously streamed online. 

While the movie was being made, Hughes served as executive producer of the project. He worked to set the goals for the film, while making decisions about what he and Cullen wanted to achieve with the program. He also worked to receive funding from a number of foundations including PepsiCo, Hershey Medical Center and the Penn State Alumni Association.

In his role as producer and director, Cullen served as the creative end of the documentary, making decisions about the story-telling, interviews and the portrayal of the passion those involved with THON have for the dance marathon.

"It's (the documentary) about THON and THON's affect on the Four Diamonds and how THON inspires other philanthropic activities," he said. "It's unofficially the year of THON. . .but it's not like the calendar year. It's just, everything thing that it is, especially what people don't know. People think that it's just this weekend in February, but we wanted to show everything else about it."

Throughout production, Hughes and Cullen's goal was simple, to explain about the passion Penn State students, alumni and faculty have for THON.

To do this, both men knew the documentary had to include much more than just footage of 46 hours of Penn State students dancing for a cure. The film also includes coverage of THON events throughout the year, like students canning and spending time at Hershey Medical Center and with Four Diamonds families.

"They (people not involved with THON) see the cans. They know that it's two days in February. Well we wanted to tell the whole story and let people know why students are so passionate about it," Hughes said.

With footage from THON 2011, THON 2012 and everything leading up to the marathons, Hughes and Cullen believe they have accomplished their goal, especially after hearing the laughter and tears of those in attendance at the premiere.

But they hope for even more laughter and tears when the documentary premieres on public television.

"The crowd tonight is an easy crowd. People tonight are going to love the documentary. I wanted people that know nothing about THON to love the documentary and to love THON," Cullen said. "I wanted them to see the passion. Maybe not feel the passion like the students do, but to see, see not only is it this cool thing that these kids are passionate about, but it is actually a really good thing because they (students) are helping these families."

"I think when people understand the story, they will be much more likely to contribute and support the cause," Hughes said.



Sam is a correspondent for the Gazette.
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