If you are a student in Penn State’s College of Arts and Architecture, you likely have heard of the Film Follies, and you may have noticed the playful animated promotional clips projected on walls, and the bright and flashy posters, but you may not quite understand what this mysterious event is.
“The Graphic Design Film Follies have always been very irreverent, very sassy. It rides lines between funny and provocative” Rodney Allen Trice, Graphic Design professor of practice, said to describe the annual student-run film festival that was started 47 years ago by Lanny Sommese. Graphic Design senior and president of the design for Follies, Mále Reguero described, “It’s a weird event. The ones who come are excited about it and they leave feeling like ‘wow I had a great time.’ It is at least visually pleasing even if they don’t understand it.” Reguero added, “Each film has an objective: to make you laugh, to make you think, to have an impact, to educate, to make you excited, to communicate a topic that has been going on in the news. It is a good culmination of what we learned: how to be good communicators.”
The concept of “relevance” was the impetus behind this year’s collection of films. The seniors communicate things of concern and importance from their perspective. They created the films in the fall semester class, “Time and Sequence,” in which every senior takes part. Reguero said “a lot of our graphic design classes have been about more instant tactical print visuals. So, ‘Time and Sequence’ really sums up how to communicate that linearly. Is the punch line at the beginning or end? Are people going to surprised or confused? How do we take the viewer through an experience?” During their final spring semester, students dive into all aspects of event production and plan for the Film Follies in the course entitled “Senior Problems.”
Each student is a creative director of their own film, and they play support roles when they are recruited onto other film teams based on the unique strengths they bring to the table. Senior and treasurer for the Follies, Colleen Witkowski, said “everyone gets to take the driver’s seat when directing their own film and be in control to make their vision come true.”
The festival is a 47-year tradition. Although this is the first time Trice has taught the Follies class, he is closely familiar with the event since he took part in it as a senior at Penn State in 1987. He compared the showcase from then to now: “The process back in 1987 was very different. We had no computers, cell phones, internet. CDs were a new thing. It was crazy – our entire soundtrack was recorded on cassettes. Now – flash forward 31 years and it is all completely digital. And though there was something incredible about it all being done by hand. We are right now able to create much stronger pieces of communication.”
With society and technological trends evolving so rapidly, the Follies festival acts as a time capsule. Witkowski suggested “It becomes a historical artifact. It tells you how we feel about current events and society, and not just what the media says.” Trice stated, “it is amazing, surreal, and exciting to be stepping in at this time. As we all know we live in a world that is constantly changing, whether we like it or not. We have no choice. And media, design and how we communicate has been one of the industries that has seen some of the most aggressive changes in the last 7–10 years.” Reguero imagined the past: “I would be super curious to see the Follies 30 years back. To see what they were talking about. How they used their voice and resources at the time.” The seniors are carrying on the legacy that professor emeritus Sommese started, and Trice affirmed he is confident that “it will continue another 47 years and beyond.”
Reguero and Witkowski are managing the branding and marketing for this year’s Follies. Every year there is typically a theme, but this year the seniors got down to basics: “this year our branding is just ‘Film Follies,’ explained Reguero. Witkowski said they made a special effort this year to brand the Follies in a way that they hope will last: “we want people to understand and be curious about the event, beyond the department.” So, they made a logo that they hope “can be set throughout the years.” They hope that “when people see it, they will know what it is.” Reguero goes on to explain, “that is why the colors are so vibrant and the topics on the posters are racy. That is what the Follies are. We are trying to make people a little uncomfortable. We are using our voice as graphic designers to start a conversation.”
Reguero reflected: “Working together as a class to plan this big event is the most fun and most challenging part. It is a representation of the class as a whole - not so much about individual projects and portfolios where everyone has their own ideas – this is more collaborative.” Witkowski said that the collaboration is beneficial, “When we collaborate it gives us a sense of what it would be like in the real-world or a design firm. It’s really awesome.”
The challenges the students faced in this process taught them useful skills and helped them to hone what they want to cultivate for their futures. Witkowski said, “I don’t see myself as a video maker. Transforming that ideology into video definitely works a different part of your brain. As a graphic designer I’m more interested in print.” Reguero agreed, “I am not an animator. That should be its own major, it’s really hard. But I am a planner and I do like the marketing and branding part of graphic design: social media, ordering merchandize, drafting programs and posters, getting the event location. User experience is where I am more inclined. I have learned to see my strengths through this process.”
Just as they have learned to recognize their strengths, they have also opened their minds to learning from others. “By using your strengths to better the group, you learn from the others. If you are not great at editing, you can learn from the students who are good at editing,” said Witkowski. They have learned to anticipate problem areas and to accept the reality that you cannot please everyone. They boil it all down to the most essential ingredient: clear communication. “Planning a big event like this is very difficult and making decisions with 22 people is very difficult. So, communication is key,” concluded Reguero.
“I am really proud of these students and their passion” reflected Trice. “It has also been exciting to let them run with the promotion ideas and color and feel. It is very much the senior class of 2018’s show. It’s their moment and I am very proud of them. I’m looking forward to what they will be doing in the future.” Although the festival takes on a unique quality each year those who have experienced it stay true fans and supporters for life. Trice exemplified, “I loved Follies when I did it in 1987, and I love it now in 2018.”
The Film Follies 2018 will air Saturday, April 14, at 7:00 p.m. in 101 Thomas Bldg, University Park. The event is free and open to the public.