Faculty member's film set for festival in Houston

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A Penn State faculty member’s award-winning short film about a mother who struggles with a new normal after her teenage son is murdered by an off-duty police officer will continue its festival run at the Houston Black Film Festival on March 24.

“Junior,” written as a monologue, features Penn State Master of Fine Arts graduate Elle Jae Stewart. The film, directed by Pearl Gluck, assistant professor in the College of Communications, is an adaptation of a one-woman play written by Stewart in the same role.

TRAILER/TEASER: "Junior"

The play completed a three-night run on campus in March 2016 and Gluck was one of many who attended. “Not one person in the audience could leave their seat ... we were transfixed,” Gluck said.

She proposed adapting the play as a film and shooting it in one continuous shot — an idea that intrigued Stewart. The 26-minute film was shot in one take by Mark Stitzer, an Emmy Award-winning videographer who works at WPSU, serves as an instructor in the College of Communications and earned his bachelor’s degree in film-video from the University in 2002.

Many other alumni and students played a role in the production as Gluck conducted the set as a learning environment. Among those who helped were: Thomas Stewart, co-producer; Jennifer Hasty, a producer; Dustin Moser, assistant director; Allan Guerrero; Michael Boulter; and Matthew DePanfilis. The film was shot at the home of Distinguished Professor S. Shyam Sundar and Savitha Kolnar.

The film, which also deals with questions of media ethics on reporting racially motivated violence, received support from the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication at Penn State. The film included a guest appearance by Norman Eberly Professor of Practice in Journalism John Dillon.

After an initial screening in Los Angeles, Stewart earned Best Actress in a Short at the film’s first festival, the Deep in the Heart Film Festival in Waco, Texas. Along with the screening in Houston, “Junior” will be playing at festivals in Mobile, Alabama; Woodward, Oklahoma; and Seattle, through April

“From the moment Ms. Stewart walked on stage to the moment the show was over, I was moved by how she created, from many interviews with mothers of the murdered, one story that explores how one mother prepares for the funeral of her son,” Gluck said. “In a way, I would be a built-in audience, since my own work often uses documentary interviews to craft a fictional narrative structure, but it was the creative muscle behind her writing and performance that drew me in most. Her authenticity and treatment of the material, as a mother, an artist and an intellect, called out to me.”

Gluck’s work has appeared at the Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca and on PBS. She teaches screenwriting, directing and producing, and through her courses and her films she explores themes such as autobiographical film and representations of gender, class and faith in cinema.

Last Updated March 24, 2017