Penn Staters lending talents to inaugural Thaw Festival

February 13, 2015

In the dead of winter, relief is on the way — a chance to come in from the cold for a full slate of entertainment.

The inaugural Thaw Festival kicks off Wednesday, Feb. 25, when the College Town Film Festival begins at the State Theatre in downtown State College and concludes Sunday, March 1, with TEDxPSU at Penn State’s Schwab Auditorium.

A community celebration of film, music and comedy, Penn Staters are contributing with considerable artistic talent and marketing savvy.   

Now in its third year in State College, the free College Town Film Festival will boast 11 feature-length films and 30 short films from Feb. 25 to 28 as well as discussions with filmmakers and workshops.

View the festival program  

“The mission of the festival is twofold,” said festival President Matt Jordan, associate professor in the Department of Film/Video and Media Studies. “It is designed to promote independent films to a demographic that is not going to see them, and to use the unique advantages of a college town -- lots of smart and curious faculty and students -- to create conversations surrounding the films with the people who made them.

“We believe that literacy in visual storytelling is essential for students to know, and that the more they can understand how films are made by watching them and talking to the people who make them, the better advantage they will have in the future.”

Two of the Feb. 25 features are the works of Penn State alumni: John Fiege directed “Above All Else,” a documentary exploring the controversy surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline project in east Texas that will be screened at 3:30 p.m.; and Alan Blanco wrote “Manos Sucias,” a drama produced by Spike Lee looking at two drug traffickers in Columbia that will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Films will be shown throughout the day at the State Theatre as well as in the Penn State Downtown Theatre, 26 Hosler Building and the HUB-Robeson Center Auditorium on campus.

Other films include “In An Ideal World,” a documentary following three prisoners over seven years in California, at 5 p.m. Feb. 26 in 26 Hosler; “Poverty Inc.,” a look at the multi-billion dollar industry of nongovernmental organizations, state and multilateral agencies, and for-profit aid contractors, at 10 a.m. Feb. 27 in the State Theatre; and “Carry the Tune,” an exploration of how high school music students can continue their musical education into college and adulthood, at 2:30 Feb. 28 in the State Theatre.

“Unafraid,” a documentary exploring the struggles and triumphs of four rape survivors in New York City, will be shown at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 27 at the State Theatre. A question-and-answer session with husband and wife filmmakers Eddie and Karin Venegas will follow. The screening will be in support of the work by Penn State’s Task Force on Sexual Assault. 

"Poustinia: The Art of Gendron Jensen," a short documentary about a Minnesota artist by Kristian Berg, a senior producer at WPSU-TV, will be shown at 2 p.m. Feb. 28 at the State Theatre Upstairs. After the film, he’ll participate in a question-and-answer session.

“Gendron is an unusual Thoreau-like character who speaks like a poet and is completely dedicated to his subject matter -- bones -- rendered simply with pencil on paper,” said Berg. “Poustinia is also a love story of his midlife romance with his artist wife, Christine Taylor Patten, and his move to join her in New Mexico.”

Happy Valley Communications, a student-run promotional firm, is adding marketing muscle with a social media campaign, giveaways and promotions. About 10 students are lending expertise and more may be mobilized to help with efforts during the festival.

“The film festival is an incredible way to bring together the Penn State community in a fun, positive and healthy fashion,” said senior Melissa Conrad, director of consulting. “Happy Valley Communications couldn't be more excited to work on the event for a second consecutive year and help to make it the best it can be for students and county residents alike.”

The film festival is sponsored by Penn State Student Affairs, the borough of State College, the College of Communications, the Department of Film/Video and Media Studies, the College of the Liberal Arts, the Department of Geography and the Center for Global Studies.

The Penn State Performing Arts Council will bring free musical, theatrical and comedic performances to Thaw. A newly formed student organization, the council promotes the works of students in the performing arts, according to President John Connolly, a junior.

“It is going to give community members the chance to showcase their vibrancy and how varied their interests are,” he said. “This festival is going to be infusing different types of art from all across the performing and visual art spectrum, and everyone's interest can be found somewhere in the events that are happening.”

On Feb. 28, the council will present a show geared toward children at 2 p.m. in Schlow Centre Region Library and a Student Showcase featuring performances by four Penn State organizations at 3 p.m. in Grace Lutheran Church.

Also that day, Penn State Downtown Theater will feature three shows each by contortionist Jonathan Burns and comedic juggler Michael Rosman, and State College Presbyterian Church will host performances by Pure Cane Sugar at 7:30 p.m. and other local acts in the afternoon and evening. Sounds, a local nonprofit specializing in alcohol-free music events, will host bands featuring Penn State and State College Area High School students from 2 to 11 p.m. in the State College Municipal Building’s Community Room. Comedian Ron G will perform at 9 p.m. at the State Theatre with Penn State's Full Ammo improv troupe as the opener. All the performances are free.

Also, a 5K race will be held on campus at 9 a.m. Feb. 28 with proceeds benefiting the Penn State Student Farm Initiative, a plan to develop a sustainable food systems minor and student-centered farm for experiential learning. The race starts at the Information Sciences Technology Building’s bridge at North Burrowes Street and finishes at the HUB-Robeson Center. Registration is $10. For more information, contact 814-863-0461 or

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 1, TEDxPSU will present 16 speakers from Penn State and beyond, delivering motivating talks in the 2015 theme of “Press Play.” Speakers include Penn State football coach James Franklin and Sister Jeannine Gramick, an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. The free event is modeled after the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conferences that have spawned multiple viral videos of thought-provoking talks.

The festival also will include concert ticket and gift card giveaways. 

Last Updated February 24, 2015