In early November, when the news broke about charges of child sexual abuse that were filed against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, many media outlets came to Penn State to cover it.
Alongside the journalists, a 1996 alumna and filmmaker, Kelly Dolak, came to make a film about the students’ and the community’s perspectives about the scandal and their experiences with the fallout.
That movie is titled “No Act of Ours” and it’s a story about loyalty, morality and betrayal, Dolak said. She began filming the day after late head coach Joe Paterno and former President Graham Spanier were removed from their positions and will continue during Sandusky’s trial.
Dolak is currently a film professor at Ramapo College in New Jersey and is filming the movie with no budget, so some of her students are helping her with the project. She is using an online funding platform called Kickstarter to raise money to produce the film.
Dolak spoke to The Daily Collegian about the project.
Q: When did you realize that you could do a film about the scandal and how was the process of filming it?
A: I found out about the scandal on Facebook. One morning I opened up my Facebook page and I saw Paterno fired and Sandusky’s charges. So I was like, “Oh, what’s going on at Penn State?” And then I closed my computer, went to work. All my colleagues were asking me “You are a Penn State alumnus, what do you think about everything?” I honestly didn’t know what to say about it. It was so much information coming in. I sat there at my desk for half an hour just processing everything. Then I was like I need to grab my equipment and go down to Penn State and start filming.
I didn’t think about it or process it. It was really just impulse that I needed to be there. Being an alumnus and being a local — I grew up in Altoona — and I am a filmmaker, I just thought that I had to be there. Almost the entire last six months it’s been me walking with my camera and equipment around campus and filming everything.
Q: How was the process of reaching Penn State students to interview them, considering it was a very emotional moment for them?
A: It was hard at first. We didn’t know everything about what was going on. There are still so many unanswered questions. I think there were a lot of raw emotions on campus. I felt like I really needed to be sensitive through to what the students were going through and what the community was going through. It took me some time to figure it out what I wanted to do there, how I wanted to capture the story.
I immediately became really interested in what the students were doing. I saw them waiting in line trying to get into the press conferences. I really wanted to talk to them. I couldn’t imagine being a student and reporting on a story that has so much emotion and has so much controversy.
Q: During filming, what was the most challenging part for you?
A: I’m still filming right now, I’m in production and I’m also working on a fundraiser so I can continue filming. The hardest part is that it’s a very emotional story. I think there are so many perspectives and I want to be sensitive to all of those perspectives. I want to be open to the process because I’m really open to the experience of meeting different people and talking to them and hearing what they have to say.
Q: Why do you think the students’ perspective about the November scandal needs to be told?
A: I think that the media can cover the story and they can cover the facts. But I want to get to the emotion of the story. We thought that the protests, or some people call them riots, when the news broke that Paterno was fired, and I wanted to understand that with more complexity. I wanted to represent the students in a more complex way. The media always spent a little bit of time in each story. I really wanted to look at the sociological aspect of the story and the emotional aspect of the story. I think the students have a really complex perspective and a lot to say about it. I don’t really see any avenue or outlets for them to do that. So what I’m really hoping to film is that.
Q: On the movie trailer you mentioned that the film is a story about “loyalty, morality and betrayal.” Do those three words refer to someone?
A: No. I think what is important about those words is that they could refer to anybody. I think that Penn Staters are loyal to their school for different reasons. I think the Penn State community feels betrayed in a lot of ways. Some students and alumni feel that the Board of Trustees betrayed them by firing Joe Paterno, somebody who gave so much to the university not only athletically but academically. So they feel betrayed for that. Other people felt betrayed that the administration didn’t do enough to stop this and some people feel that there could have been a cover-up. I think morality is like when a family member, or in this case a bigger family, does something that goes against their beliefs they stand for.
So I think that each person is going to feel differently about each one of those words. And I am not coming at it with any exact definition of those words.
Q: On your film website you mentioned that you feel passionate about this story. Why do you feel this way?
A: I feel passionate about this story because I think that child sexual abuse is not unique to Penn State University. This is an issue that comes up for many people. I’ve known at least half a dozen people who have been abused as children. The people close to them haven’t done anything about it, because they felt loyal to the other person and it gets really complicated to intervene. So the reason I feel passionate about this story is because I think that it’s a moment for us as individuals to think about our responsibility to our communities in relation to child sexual abuse, to the institutions we are loyal to and also acting as moral agents.
I also think that out of this horrible situation maybe there can be changes to the legal system. We might see laws being changed in reference to reporting these crimes.
So I think that, yes, that this situation happened to Penn State, but it could have happened anywhere. But it happened to Penn State and what does it mean to Penn Staters to be dealing with it? How are they going to deal with it? I think we have a lot to learn and that’s why I feel so passionate about it.
Q: You mentioned that you want to make a difference with this film. In what way do you want to accomplish that, and who you think will benefit from it?
A: I think that the Penn State community will benefit from the film because it will be a therapeutic film. It’s going to address issues about child sexual abuse that happened on a larger scale that happened in an institution. So it’s going to give us a glimpse of how this happens. I think it could make a difference, just talking about it. I’m seizing this opportunity in the spotlight for the film to adjust to these issues. I also think that is definitely not a film just for Penn Staters. It’s a film that anybody who has known somebody who has been abused, or has been abused themselves or care passionately about this issue will gain a lot from watching the film.
And then also see how this family at Penn state goes through this journey together and the provisions that are coming up, too.
Q: What do you think would be the reaction of the Paterno family about the film? Did you think about that while filming?
A: Absolutely, I can’t imagine what the Paterno family is going through. I can’t imagine what so many people are going through with this story. But it crossed my mind almost every day of what the Paterno’s are going through. I would love to hear their perspectives of the film so far, of the trailer.
When I am representing a perspective in a story I really want to respect each person. I don’t want to bash anybody; this film is not about looking at things simplistically by any means.
I would hope to think that the Paternos would see that I am taking a respectful unbiased approach to the subject matter; I certainly would like to know what they think.
Q: Besides the fundraising you are doing on Kickstarter, are you planning on using other ways to fund the film?
A: I’m really just emerged in Kickstarter right now. Its 45 days of fundraising and the work involved is about eight hours a day of getting the word out about the film and asking people to join us in making it. Because not just myself, I think this is definitely a Penn State story as much as it is my story. So that’s why I’m pouring all the energy that I have into Kickstater. The $28,000 that I’m trying to raise is not going to cover everything. But basically, if you don’t raise your goal in a certain amount of time you don’t get anything. So I wanted to go with a somewhat reasonable number. We’ll see what happens at the end of that. I’m sure I’ll picture other funding possibilities after that. But I’ve gotten so many emails from Penn State alumni who want to help with the project. I mean it’s been incredible, a really great experience.
Q: The pledge on Kickstarter will end on June 15 and you are expecting to raise at least $28,000. If you don’t reach that amount, what will happen with the film?
A: Right now I’m optimistic that we can raise the money and that’s what I’m trying to do. So as everyday I think that we, as a community, will make this film happen. I don’t really want to think about it if it didn’t happen, because I want to make this movie. But it would be very difficult if I don’t get the money. At the same time, I’m living and breathing the story like most Penn Staters, so I can’t even imagine not finishing it. But I think it is going to be very hard without the support of the community.
Q: When will the film be released? Will it be available to Penn State students?
A: In 2013. Hopefully has a wide release in DVD and Netflix, I want this film to be out there. The first step would be submitting it to film festivals and traveling with it. Also, having a screening at the State Theatre would be great.
Q: The title “No Act of Ours” comes from Penn State’s Alma Mater. Why did you chose that and what does it mean to you?
A: It’s the shorter version of “May no act of ours bring shame.” I think that’s an important quote to live by. “May no act of ours bring shame,” may I live a life that it’s respectful and compassionate and moral. The shorter version incorporates the high moral standards that are in the alma mater.
It’s very sad for me that this happened at a school that gave me so much. I think it is something we want to live up to. May not do anything that hurts anybody, and that’s what I wanted the title to be.
Q: As Sandusky’s trial is set to start in a few weeks, will you be filming then, too?
I’ll be at the trial; I’ve been at all the preliminary hearings. I’ll be continuing to follow Ryan Beckler who writes for Onward State who is in the trailer. He is like my main character, him and Kevin Horne. I’ll be following them tweeting, blogging and covering the story and their reactions. Also, I will be getting the community’s reactions. And depending on how the trial goes, the outcome of it too. I see myself shooting at least another six months.
Q: Some students prefer not to remember what happened in November at Penn State. Besides the students’ reactions, what else will the film show that would not be “negative” for them?
A: I don’t think we can afford to forget this. I don’t see this as just something that happened in November. I don’t know if most Penn State students and alumni think that this is something that happened back in November, but this is an ongoing story. I see the students not wanting to forget it because forgetting it would be not making changes. I think that this is an opportunity for all of us to evaluate ourselves. I hope that people don’t say “we don’t want this film made because we don’t want more attention to the story."
When the film comes out in 2013, it is going to present the student’s experiences in a way that they haven’t seen them represented. So they are not going to go, “Oh gosh I don’t want to hear about it anymore.” It might be a way for them to validate the emotional experiences that they had throughout this scandal.