I watched my first True/False film this past weekend. I wish I could tell you that it filled some hole in me. Instead, I fear I made it bigger.
I squeezed into the last seat in the first row of The Blue Note for the premiere of “Happy Valley.” The documentary focuses on the child sex scandal of Jerry Sandusky that hit Penn State back in 2011 and the firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno.
The film did a great job of capturing the humans conflicted in the murky middle between a love for the school and a hatred for the crimes some of its leaders committed.
It had its flaws: I was a bit put off by director Amir Bar-Lev’s complete detachment from football; during the Q-and-A, he was unaware of what “SEC” stood for.
But the film wasn’t the problem that night. It was me and my inability to foresee how any film on Penn State football would leave me longing for family.
My grandfather graduated from Penn State. When I was 7 years old, he died, having lived his entire life believing Paterno was immortal. As I grew up in northeast Ohio, I was an Ohio State fan through and through, but if there was a second team of rooting interest in the Atkins household, it was the Nittany Lions.
When the movie ended, all I could think of was my grandfather and what he would have to say about all of this. I texted my father about it, who responded, “He would be rolling in his grave.”
The host asked how many in the crowd were Penn State fans, and I raised half a hand. Nobody else did.
In the Q&A, I wanted to ask about Grandpa. I wanted to ask Bar-Lev if he had considered interviewing any elderly people who grew up as Paterno did and how they responded to having their worldview entirely crushed.
It seems fitting now that I didn’t take the initiative to ask.
This was the semester I was supposed to do all of those college things I’ll never get to do again. I’m supposed to write about them here. I’m supposed to be happy I did.
I am happy that I got to experience True/False. I saw a film no general audience had seen before, and I only had to walk two blocks to do it.
But I’m not happy with how I watched it alone. Somewhere during the film, my mind drifted to my family and how they have never been to this university. It hadn’t ever bothered me until that moment, when I wished I could turn left and whisper something about Grandpa to my older brother, Ryan.
In the fall, Ryan will be attending Columbia College Chicago and majoring in film. We couldn’t be more different, but movies are the one area where we meet as storytellers.
I wish my brother had been sitting next to me Friday night.
Growth comes in the moments in which we stretch who we are into something we’d like to be. College is a time for trying new things that have any possibility of leaving an imprint to be carried for all of time, and that is exactly what a festival flashing beautiful films about life helps to do.
But with each experience we check off the bucket list, we remember why it was ever on the list in the first place. Your mind races to all you could and should have done if only you’d realized this a little bit earlier. As you sew up one hole, you tear open another.
That is college, too.