Happy Valley @ The Ross

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Happy Valley is a documentary every Nebraskan should see. Directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev, Happy Valley is an exploration of a community where football is a religion. Uh uh, do not try to deny it! We all know the depression that sets in this state when football season is over. You especially will appreciate Amir Bar-Lev’s subjects: Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky at Pennsylvania State University, and the charges of child molestation for which he was convicted in November 2011.

Amir Bar-Lev’s camera is relentless as it probes the culture of hero worship, secrets, accusations, and tragedy in a city still recovering from an identity crisis. Happy Valley refuses to be a witch hunt of a documentary; let’s face it, the damage is done and now is rooted in the psyches of its residents. Instead, Amir Bar-Lev critiques our penchant to place humans on a pedestal when they bring to us fame and celebrity, especially when it comes from the arena of the athlete, that revered gladiator of sports.

The documentary opens with a long shot of the verdant land filled with tailgaters pitching tents and organizing food in preparation for the game. Coach Joe Paterno begins the dialogue, “You know, it’s a tough life, and to be able to get away and go someplace where you meet friends that you only see once and a while; each stupid food; drink more than you should drink; can get excited about going to a game, and just get it all together and have 100,000 people doing the same dumb things makes you feel that you’re not as dumb as you think you are. College football is something special, and hopefully we will never lose sight of that or screw it up!”

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Matthew Sandusky

In November 2011, things screwed up, and Amir Bar-Lev exposes all the elements that went into causing the tragedy that catapulted the state into confusion, shame, and grief. The interview with Sandusky’s adoptive son, Matt, who grew up in a house with no running water, no toilets, and no sinks, among his relatives that numbered 30, will cause your heart to shudder. Remembering his impression of Sandusky when he joined the Assistant coach’s summer camps as a child, Matt says, “to be right next to him, and to understand that he chose you, I felt powerful. I felt like people looked at me and envied me instead of people looking down on me.”

Happy Valley Plays through March 8 at The Ross in Lincoln.

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