Bellisario College faculty-filmmaker searches for authenticity in everything

Jonathan F. McVerry
March 19, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As a filmmaker and teacher, Pearl Gluck is on a constant search for authenticity. She looks for it in her actors, her students and even her own scripts. It’s not easy, but the assistant professor of film-video in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications says it’s vital for the filmmaking process.

Many of her films tackle pressing issues that don’t always make headlines. Gluck’s “The Turn Out” addresses human trafficking, specifically at truck stops in the Midwest. The film is based on true stories and stars real-life survivors and truckers as its actors. It was released last year and won several awards, including Best Debut Feature at Toronto’s Female Eye Film and Best Experimental Feature at the 2018 Cutting Edge Film Festival. Each character is a product of research, creative direction and a constant pursuit for authenticity.

Q: “The Turn Out” features real people acting in a fictional story about a real issue (human trafficking), how did you decide that was the best way to tell your story?

Gluck: I did a lot of research and interviews that involved survivors and truckers. I was recording what these people had to say and using what they shared to craft the fiction. We teach documentary and fiction separately, but sometimes a story doesn’t fit perfectly into one or the other. For example, I recorded the interviews documentary-style, but when I heard one woman’s story I asked her if I could craft it into the film. She said "absolutely," and now it’s a scene.

Q: What do people not understand about human trafficking?

Gluck: It’s not always a lack of willingness to help these children, but a lack of training and awareness. That’s changing, which is great. For example, in the interview with the woman, she shared how her mother allowed her to be assaulted in exchange for a hit. Her sister was able to save her from the situation and the two ran to their grandmother’s. Hours later, the mother showed up with the police claiming the daughter had run away. The policeman, who didn’t know any better, said, “Don’t run away from home” and returned her to the mother. Things are changing, and I like seeing that shift toward more awareness.

Q: You have a story. You’ve done the research. How do you translate it for actors in the film?

Gluck: I love working with actors. It’s magical. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I can’t do what they do, and watching it all happen … it’s like "wow." I love helping them find the reason their characters are where they are. How did they end up there? Why are they there? The actor’s job is to make it authentic, so I need to let them do their jobs while making it clear what’s at stake. There is a lot of work for every single moment. What matters is the passion, desire and heart everyone puts into the project.

Q: Are your students willing to put passion, desire and heart into their work?

Gluck: That’s the work. It’s the process of an artist, whether you’re in your 40s or in college doing film for the first time. We learn. It’s helpful to see others go through the process. The more filmmakers we can bring to campus and the more faculty there are to work with, the better. We can tell students about our struggles and be open about our process. My students know what I go through as a filmmaker. I have had students involved on all my sets so they can experience first-hand the pursuit of that passion. If you don’t show the students, the willingness won’t be there, and they won’t see the payoff at the end.

Q: What’s a challenging part of being a new student interested in film?

Gluck: My classes are notoriously full of work. I throw a lot of triggers at students. I tell them that we’re all standing on the shoulders of giants and we know more than they do because we’re on their shoulders, and I ask them whose shoulders they’re standing on. They sometimes know and sometimes they don’t. It’s anyone who has made a difference in their lives, good experiences and bad experiences. I ask them, “What made you feel something?"

I am an activist in my work and that’s what drives me. Some students are driven to entertain, some see comedy in certain things and some students are driven to science fiction. But in all that, authenticity is the hardest part. We need to make our stories authentic as possible. 

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Last Updated March 19, 2019