Inaugural Centre Film Festival showcased century-old theatre and a town ‘back on the beam’

  • Min Xian/WPSU

(Philipsburg) — The inaugural Centre Film Festival brought filmmakers, artists, residents and visitors to the 102-year-old Rowland Theatre in Philipsburg this past weekend, showcasing films with connections to the area as well as efforts to revitalize the historic town.

The theme of the three-day event was “Stories at the Rowland” and featured 16 films, many with ties to central Pennsylvania.

Pearl Gluck, who teaches screenwriting and directing at Penn State’s College of Communications, created and planned the festival. A filmmaker herself, Gluck said it was the Rowland Theatre that inspired her in the first place.

“There’s this undiscovered gem, and it’s our time to start engaging with it,” Gluck said. “And what I do best is [to] think about it in terms of how to create a community around the arts.”

Gluck curated several categories of films for the festival, including “A Century of Cinema,” “On the Road” and “Honoring Our Vets.” Organizers said each film brought in its own fan group.

Michael Uys is one of the filmmakers who attended the festival as his documentary film, “Riding the Rails,” was shown. He said screening his 1997 film about teenage hobos who hopped freight trains across the country during the Great Depression right in Philipsburg is a visceral experience.

“When I come to a town like this, I sense that I go back in time and I just think about what it would be like when the town had frequent freight trains going through it in the ‘30s, probably with people on them,” Uys said.

“And I also was thinking about the theater that this film festival is being held in. The theater was built in 1917, and so, the scenes that are conjured up in my film, they could easily have taken place right here.”

Luther Gette is one of those former hobos – as a matter of fact, he hopped his first freight train on the tracks right behind the theater and is now a curator of the Philipsburg Historical Foundation. He sees a connection between the ups and downs of the theater and his hometown.

“This film festival and the Rowland Theatre, how well they’ve done it and everything – those are ways to try and get Philipsburg back on the beam,” Gette said.

The Centre Film Festival also put a spotlight on engaging students and young filmmakers. In addition to screening a dozen short films made by local and international high school students, organizers invited six local high school students to be on a youth jury, giving out awards at the end of the festival.

Jaiden Johns, a ninth grader at the Philipsburg-Osceola High School, was one of them.

“My favourite movie that we’ve been introduced was the film on the first female director,” Johns said.

That film was “Be Natural: the untold story of Alice Guy-Blaché.” Johns said she’s learning more about the genre of lost film, which she was interested in.

Rebecca Inlow, who is on the board of directors of the Rowland Theatre, said maintaining the century-old space is a labor of love for all the volunteers.

“What is really exciting is that I don’t think I know most of the people here, which means we’re getting a lot of people from out of town,” Inlow said.

“It’s just great to be able to show off the theater to visitors who haven’t been here, but also for people in town to know that we’re not just a movie theater.”

Carissa Milliman and Alex Gentry are among those visiting Philipburg and seeing the Rowland Theatre for the first time. They said they have seen different events taking place in small towns in the area and felt encouraged to explore.

“We wanna come back. I wanna see some live music on that stage,” Gentry said. “It’s really neat to see the arts being featured in small towns in Pennsylvania and not just in State College. We know we have it there, but it’s exciting to see it branching out into other smaller towns.”

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