Students' film earns top prize at an international festival in Philadelphia

August 05, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With the start of the fall semester quickly approaching, many students are planning their return to campus, and a few film-video majors can pack something special in their bags — the top prize from an international film festival.

What started as a project for a documentary filmmaking class during the spring semester grew into an award-winning effort thanks in large part to the students’ creativity and determination. They were attempting to chronicle the 1987 death of a Penn State student and found little cooperation and information 32 years later.

Still, rising seniors Kyra-Nicole Barkley, Todd Mueller and Aaron Salada were resolute in their efforts. At first, they thought they had an interesting story capable of earning them a good grade from a faculty member who regularly mentored and pushed students to improve but was a tough grader.

The more the students discovered, though — and the less they found in terms of information and sources — the more determined they were to tell the story of Dana Bailey. The resulting eight-minute documentary, “Murder in Happy Valley,” was a hit in the classroom (earning an A from Anita Gabrosek, an assistant teaching professor) and beyond.

Film majors accept award

Film majors Aaron Salada and Kyra-Nicole Barkley were at the Rough Cut Film Festival in Philadelphia to accept their award in July.

IMAGE: Photo Provided

The film was named Best Documentary in the Post-Secondary Division of the Philadelphia Rough Cut Film Festival in July.

“It was up against three other international nominees and we had seen short clips of the other nominees. They looked really good and at that point we were just happy to be a part of the process,” said Salada, who served as the film’s screenwriter and director.

“We knew we’d made a good documentary and the others were about really great topics. So it was just nice to be there,” said Barkley, the film’s producer. “When they announced we won, I physically gasped. It was shocking and humbling.”

Barkley and Salada were in Philadelphia for the event. Mueller, who edited the film, was unable to attend.

They remain proud of their film, which morphed from a traditional documentary idea into more of a first person “True Crime” approach. 

Bailey, 21, from Philipsburg, was stabbed in her South Allen Street apartment in March 1987. She was found in the apartment by her mother, and while more than 800 people were interviewed about the case, which prompted some leads at different points during the years, Bailey’s killer remains unknown.

While the award in Philadelphia surprised the students, what’s next for them is not at all surprising. They plan to collaborate on a yearlong senior project starting this fall.

Last Updated June 02, 2021