UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Gabby Sumney heard the not-so-subtle hint and embraced it.
As Sumney was interviewing to join the Penn State faculty, one of her potential colleagues mentioned the growing and successful Centre Film Festival that was founded by several faculty members in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.
So, not long after Sumney officially joined the faculty and Pearl Gluck asked her to help with the festival, the answer was easy.
“It’s given me a great connection point,” Sumney said. “With classes, most of my time this fall has been in the classroom, so it’s been great to have something that resonates with students, and they’re excited about the festival, as well as something that helps me get to know the community better.
“For example, I would not have gone to the Rowland Theatre — and I’m glad I did — if Pearl had not insisted.”
The seven-day Centre Film Festival will be conducted with three delivery methods for its 18 documentaries, eight feature films, numerous shorts, and more than a dozen related discussions and question-and-answer sessions with visiting filmmakers and local activists. In-person programming will be conducted at the historic Rowland Theatre in Philipsburg, the Mishler Theatre in Altoona, and the State Theatre in State College, while hybrid and virtual offerings will round out the programming.
Gluck, a founder of the event and the Donald P. Bellisario Career Advancement Professor in the Department of Film Production and Media Studies, said the festival includes a variety of approaches to storytelling as well as myriad film genres. Ticket information and a full schedule may be found on the festival website.
She said the festival was possible in part because of the collegiality, commitment and teamwork of its organizers — both those who have been with the festival since its inception and newcomers like Sumney.
“With new colleagues such as Cassie Anne Ross, Gabby Sumney and Catharine Axley, it made the vision for co-founder Curt Chandler and I come further to fruition,” Gluck said. For example, she pointed to the Lifetime Achievement Award, developed with Kevin Hagopian, a teaching professor of media studies in the Bellisario College. “We are looking forward to the continued collaboration as we grow deeper roots in central Pennsylvania as a festival.”
Sumney, an assistant professor of film production, helped program experimental films for the festival. She’s excited about films like “Death of Bowling,” which will screen Nov. 3, and she’s especially excited about the collaboration necessary to make the festival a reality. She previously worked as a student staff member, tour coordinator and volunteer coordinator for festivals in Wilmington, North Carolina, and Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“There’s a great common ground that’s enjoyable,” Sumney said. “And, honestly, it’s just a little bit of work. Pearl has been driving things and Cassie has done so much with logistics and student volunteers. It’s an impressive team effort.”
Another key member of the team has been Catharine Axley, an assistant professor of film production who also joined the faculty this academic year. Last year, before she even applied to join Penn State, she had a documentary accepted into the festival. Her experience in that role made her especially willing to help with this year’s event.
“It was one of the most enjoyable festivals I got to be a part of in the past year or so. I was shocked it was only in its second year,” Axley said. “I was so thrilled to be joining the Bellisario College regardless, but the fact that I had experience with the festival, knew how strong it was, and knew its potential — that was an added attraction in coming here.”
So, when Gluck asked Axley for her wisdom and network in the documentary film community, the positive response was immediate.
Axley has been teaching two production classes this fall while helping program the documentary portion of the festival. She frames it as making connections and offering information to potential participants, but her experience and insights have been invaluable and influential.
With the festival now just days away, Axley’s enthusiasm has been building. She’s excited about the opportunity for her students, many of whom are in the midst of their own projects, to meet with filmmakers and watch high-quality films that might impact their projects or inform their career paths going forward.
Axley anticipates the events surrounding screenings as well.
“With our discussions and panels, we’re able to talk to filmmakers and there’s a wonderful level of excitement and spontaneity that comes with that,” Axley said. “It was great to participate as a filmmaker before, and it’s going to be really fun this year.”
The festival’s schedule includes comedy, drama and experimental films with a mix of nonfiction and fiction offerings. As in previous years, the work of Pennsylvania filmmakers is a focus for the festival and a popular set of children’s programming returns as well. Special guests include Penn State alumni Keegan-Michael Key, Patrick Fabian, Michael Craven and Ian Tarbert.
Partners across the University and community include the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau, the College of Arts and Architecture, the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, the Sustainability Institute at Penn State and the Philipsburg Revitalization Corp. Plus, an inaugural first-year seminar class in the Bellisario College has been helping with market research and support for the festival.