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Juniata Theater Film Documentary Reveals Treasure Trove of Local Movies

(Posted February 16, 2004)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- The one true thing about making a film documentary is that once the cameras start rolling, the filmmakers never know what they are going to find. A yearlong student documentary film project begun this past fall has helped unearth some long-unseen movies from Huntingdon in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1960s.

?Our digital video service at Juniata, which is operated by students, was not generating a lot of interesting projects that would give the students a hands-on experience they could take into the workplace,? explains Nathan Wagoner, instructional systems developer and trainer at Juniata, who teaches the college?s digital video production course. ?We decided that producing a documentary film would give students production experience and have lasting value for the college and the community."

Wagoner and two students working on the documentary, Cody Boggs, a junior from Altoona, Pa., and Eric DePanfilis, a senior from Ridgway, Pa., decided to trace the history of Huntingdon?s Clifton Theater. The theater, built in 1928, is now a multiplex movie theater, but it once was a single-screen ?movie palace? that was a focal point of Huntingdon?s downtown. ?It will give us a historical perspective on what the community was like,? says DePanfilis, who wrote the film?s script. ?The research for this project was intense, it?s not one of those subjects you can just look up on the Internet.?

The students started historical research on the project in October 2003, poring over files in the Huntingdon Historical Society and in the archives of the Huntingdon Daily News. They also began to interview current and former Huntingdon residents who were associated with the theater.

?Our main focus for the film is to discover why the Clifton was able to remain open for so many years when most small-town theaters closed as television became more and more popular,? says Boggs, who is studying information technology. Boggs also is overseeing film production. ?If nothing else, the film will give people an idea of how the town evolved, and what the Clifton meant to Huntingdon.?

One of the first interviews was with Bruce Davis, executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the movie-industry group responsible for film preservation and for producing the annual Academy Awards ceremony.

Davis, a 1965 Juniata graduate who taught at the college from 1968 to 1980, also worked at the Clifton Theater for several years in the late 1970s. The students also interviewed Jim Kalos, the former manager of the Clifton Theater from the 1940s to the 1990s. During the interview, Kalos told the students he had a print of a 35-millimeter one-reel movie called ?Huntingdon?s Hero? that had been shot in 1934 using townspeople as actors and actual locations in Huntingdon.

?I had heard about the existence of this movie for decades,? says Wagoner, who grew up in Huntingdon. ?A lot of longtime Huntingdon residents had seen it when it was shown in 1967 as part of Huntingdon?s bicentennial celebration.?

Since that showing, the 17-minute film, which is in black and white and features synchronized sound, had not been seen and had been stored in a closet at Kalos? home. Kalos and Wagoner decided to try and preserve the film. The film is in good shape, according to Wagoner, but it is on silver-nitrate film, which deteriorates over time and is highly flammable.

Enter Bruce Davis, back in the picture, so to speak. Davis offered to have the film stabilized and preserved by archivists at the Academy. The technicians also will transfer the film to videotape and DVD. Former Clifton manager Kalos retains ownership but the original print will be stored in the Academy?s temperature-controlled fireproof vault.

Although Wagoner and the student team have not had much time to study the film, research in the Huntingdon Daily News found that the film was produced directed and made by an entrepreneur who traveled to small towns and, using local talent and locations, created a movie celebrating the town. A previous film made in Huntingdon in 1928 is lost to time, as is a similar film made the same year in Lewistown, Pa.


In the middle of the student documentary project, Juniata relocated its audio-visual services office and during the move discovered a treasure trove of films, including a 16-millimeter print of a film from 1966 made by WFBG-TV (the forerunner of WTAJ-TV), the local CBS affiliate in Altoona, Pa. The movie, hosted by news anchor Big John Riley, shows Huntingdon-area businesses during the 1960s. Another discovery, found in a cardboard box, revealed seven 8-millimeter films shot by Harold Brumbaugh, the longtime director of alumni relations at Juniata.

?The Brumbaugh films are shot all around Juniata and the oldest one is from 1936,? Wagoner explains. ?The films show the laying of the cornerstone for Oller Hall, as well as May Day celebrations, football games, baseball games and other events.?

This spring, Wagoner hopes to show digital versions of all these films as well as the premiere of the Clifton Theater documentary in a special showing on campus.
?All too often films like these get tossed out during moves or cleanup efforts. I think if you grew up around Huntingdon, this will be an amazing look into the past,? he says.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.