A slice of Cannes is coming to central Pennsylvania this month.
The historic Rowland Theatre in Philipsburg will be home to the inaugural Centre Film Festival the weekend of November 8-10.
The festival, with the theme “Stories at the Rowland,” will showcase six award-winning feature films, a world premiere, eight award-winning short films, and new work by area high school students. It will also feature live music and master classes led by film and documentary professionals.
The festival is the first project of Centre Film Workshop.
Pearl Gluck, the festival’s artistic director, founder of Centre Film Workshop, and a Penn State assistant professor of film, shared her thoughts on the big event with Town&Gown.
T&G: The festival is the first project of the Centre Film Workshop. Please tell us about the workshop and how the festival came about?
Gluck: On the one hand, I could say it all started at the Grange Fair the moment I bit into one of Helen’s Pierogis and chatted with Helen and her sisters … and their daughters. On the other hand, it could also have started the moment I stepped foot into our central PA treasure, the century-old Rowland Theatre. Either way, both roads led to Philipsburg and a reconsideration of how to tell stories intergenerationally, with innovation, and without losing sight of heritage and oral history.
So, about a year ago, I joined forces with multimedia storyteller Curt Chandler, who is not only my colleague at Penn State, but is also a Philipsburg resident, and we started documenting the story behind Helen’s Pierogis and the family’s trajectory from the Carpathians to Hawk Run. We also began to collect stories from the family of Vernon Garbrik, a Centre Hall innovator known for his invention of the collapsible Ferris wheel still in use today at local fairs. On our sets, Curt and I were working with our undergraduate students and enjoyed the behind-the-scenes creative give-and-take, and considered what it might look like if we extended the story-making experience to local and regional high school students … how effective that continuum of craft conversation could be for all of us involved. And the idea for the Centre Film Workshop was born.
There are a few specific inspirations for us, such as Apalshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky, my experience at more than 300 film festivals with my own films or hosting poetry slams at the Nuyorican Poetry Café in New York’s Lower East Side, Curt’s work with the Picture Kentucky Workshop or the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Most importantly, though, we are interested in learning from the community across generations what we can develop here in central Pennsylvania to continue the vitalization through locally relevant multimedia storytelling.
While our long-term goal is a brick-and-mortar space to create new stories often not heard or seen widely on the big screen and a place to host monthly film experiences, our short-term goal is a first step: hosting a weekend-long filmgoing experience centered at first at the Rowland, a cinema gem at our doorstep.
T&G: What’s special about holding this at the Rowland?
Gluck: The Rowland is an extraordinary venue. It hearkens back to the golden age of cinema, when movie-going was a special event in people's social calendars. As you will hear in our opening night film, Going Attractions, directed by April Wright, the movie palace movement at the turn of the century was an attempt at the democratization of entertainment. People of all socioeconomic backgrounds could all equally enjoy the marble columns, red carpets, velvet seats, gold inlay in the wood, for the same affordable ticket price.
We believe moviegoing still is, and should always be, a community event, an instigator of conversation. The grandeur of the space is a reflection of the grandeur of the ideas and images presented onscreen. We feel so fortunate to have this awe-inspiring space as the home for the festival.
What’s special is that the Rowland, reconfigured as a movie palace in 1917 by then-U.S. Representative Charles Rowland, is still a single-screen venue, run as a not-for-profit, by a dedicated board. What’s special is that it is right here in central Pennsylvania and we get to enjoy it whenever we want to see a movie. What’s special to us in particular is that the theater’s history and appreciation for the arts from the very beginning of its inception can be continued through our film festival, where filmmakers and artists and audiences can visit and experience our community and our space.
T&G: What are some of the films to be highlighted at the festival?
Gluck: Film topics range from roots music, to the fate of historic movie palaces, to the life of a Vietnam vet who is overcoming the impact of war to enrich his own life and the lives of people around him.
Given the historical home and the historical nature of the festival itself, opening night features a double bill: a film by April Wright that has been winning awards at festivals this year called Going Attractions, which celebrates movie palaces in the United States, and a film by Pamela Green which screened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival about the first filmmaker, Alice Guy Blache, called Be Natural.
The Centre Film Festival will also feature the world premiere of a film by a local Pennsylvania filmmaker, Sean Heisey, which takes us on a tour of outdoor bouldering in Pennsylvania.
Look out for the Peabody Award-winning classic documentary, Riding the Rails, directed by Michael Uys and Lexy Lovell, which tells the story of hobo history in the United States during the Great Depression and will be followed by a conversation with Luther Gette, director of the Philipsburg Historical Foundation and a local former hobo who hopped his first train right behind the Rowland. He will be walking the rails (weather permitting) and talking to the director after the screening.
In honor of Veterans Day, Stray Dog, a documentary about Ron Hall, who had appeared in Academy-nominated director Debra Granik’s film, Winter’s Bone, before she decided to follow Ron and his wife from Branson Missouri on a motorcycle ride with thousands of other bikers to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. Ron and his wife, Alicia, will be at the Rowland after the film to talk about what it was like to have their story told on screen.
These are only a few of the many gems to be screened in the festival.
T&G: How were films selected?
Gluck: This year, we curated the films based on the story of the Rowland, the central Pennsylvania setting, our Penn State students’ accomplished work, and the fact that it's Veterans Day weekend. Next year, we will curate our feature and short films primarily by submission and jury, as is traditional for film festivals. High School films, however, have been submitted for consideration and are in competition for two awards, a grand prize of tuition-free Film Camp at Penn State University, and a $250 cash prize sponsored by local business Shindig Alley to be used toward the winner’s next film.
T&G: You’ll also have some of the artists present, conducing master classes and workshops. Who’s coming and what can attendees learn?
Gluck: We have close to 20 visiting artists coming from Boston, Branson, Los Angeles, New York, and Virginia. In addition to Ron Hall from Stray Dog, Gerardo Hernandez, whose story is depicted in the short film, The Other Border (directed by Justin Zimmerman), will be in attendance with his family from Norwalk, Ohio.
Special festival guests will also include award-winning filmmakers such as Vicki Vlasic, director of Fiddlin, musicians such as Hillbilly Gypsies, documentarian Jonathan Berman (whose film tells the story of eccentric devotees of George van Tassel), and a photographer named Matt Lambros, who has spent the last two decades photographing movie palaces and is about to release his third book, After the Final Curtain.
In addition to a post-screening discussion on opening night with the filmmaker April Wright and local author and Rowland’s own Rebecca Inlow, Matt will be teaching teenage students how to photograph the Rowland on Saturday morning during our master classes. Other master classes geared toward teens are with Robbie Mann of the Hillbilly Gypsies, who will teach music; local theater professor Susan Russell, who will teach storytelling; and local performance artist Lady Grey, who will teach cabaret dance.
T&G: You have invited local high school students to participate in a workshop and enter short films in the festival. Please tell us about that experience and what festivalgoers should expect to see.
Gluck: Our intention at every level is to engage artists intergenerationally. High school students are encouraged to take any of the masterclasses, and high school filmmakers were invited to submit their work.
What’s particularly exciting for me is the formation of a youth jury this year to judge the high school student films, select the grand prize award winners for the competition, and to present Gratitude Awards to the accomplished filmmakers at our closing night ceremony. The youth jury is guided by film-video Penn State students.
On the last day of the festival, Sunday, November 11, you can expect a refreshing lineup of high school shorts, and a moving closing night ceremony hosted by Webster’s own Elaine Wilgus and featuring local artists such as Natascha Hoffmeyer and Jonathan Philippi sharing the stage with Philipsburg’s high school music group, The Vinyl Stripes … and, of course, the jury will present their Gratitude Awards and announce the high school filmmaker award winners.
T&G: How do you hope to grow the festival going forward? Any plans yet for how it might evolve in future years?
Gluck: We are learning so much from this process and getting to know the community, the business owners, the organizations, and angel supporters who are interested in being involved moving forward. Our intention is to see how this inaugural year unfolds. We want to cull from our experiences and engage with the community about what could be improved upon.
It’s been a highly organic development process so far and I can’t imagine that will change as we continue to build into the second year of the festival. We encourage the community to be part of the experience with us, visit the festival, and then share their feedback with us.
T&G: Anything else we should know about the festival?
Gluck: As you can imagine, this has been a labor of love and community focused on the significance of art and the impact of film. There have been dozens of community members and students volunteering for the creation of this experience. Everyone has been contributing their talents, skills, energy, and time, and it's been incredibly inspiring.
Please do take a minute and check out our sponsors, our tireless team, and our supporters online and let them know how much you appreciate their efforts! We are at centrefilm.org or follow us on any of your socials @centrefilm to stay updated, get tickets, and detailed schedule information.
See you at the Rowland!
Mark Brackenbury is editorial director of Town&Gown.