Lanny Sommese wanted to draw more attention to the incredible work of the school’s graphic design program, so the young professor decided to create a film festival for all of the effort his seniors put into the program throughout the year in 1971.
An East Moline, Illinois native, Sommese graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and a Bachelor of Design degree. He eventually traveled back to his home state to earn his master’s in Graphic Design at the University of Illinois. He joined Penn State in 1970 and also serves as a fellow of Penn State’s Institute for Arts and Humanities, a member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale, an honorary member of The University and College Designers Association, and a fellow of the AIGA Philadelphia chapter.
After a year of working at Penn State, Sommese realized something was missing from the school’s graphic design program. Seniors in graphic design seemed to receive little to no recognition for their hard work, so he decided to create the Film Follies to increase attention to these students.
“The show itself was based on a show I did when I was in graduate school at the University of Illinois,” Sommese said. “Once I moved to begin my teaching career at Penn State, I brought that idea and transformed it into Follies.”
The show is an hour-long combination of short videos created by the senior class. The students start their projects in the fall when they take Sommese’s Time and Sequence class. After the first semester ends, seniors take their pieces and transform them into the film sequences — the films are then compiled into that year’s Film Follies. The pieces presented in the show span topics like social commentaries, comedies, experimental imagery, and even the creative nature of insanity.
Each project falls under the umbrella of a common theme each year. Past themes have focused on family sitcoms, Armageddon, and 3D imagery. This year’s seniors selected a theme based on the date of the event, April 1, which led to the show’s nickname “Film Foolies.”
When Sommese first introduced the show in the 70s, the name “Follies” was meant to pay homage to the lack of good sense and silliness many of the pieces embodied. Today, when people ask him how he came up with the name, he jokes that he doesn’t even have an exact idea himself.
“The hell if I know! It’s been 46 years!” Sommese said. “But really, the show itself is a ‘folly’ which is something that is often hard to explain, just like the work included!”
Film Follies has become an annual tradition at the university, and the event has grown in popularity over the years. The students used to host the event within Penn State’s smaller classrooms, but now it attracts a large enough audience to take place in 100 Thomas, the university’s largest lecture hall. For both the students participating and the audience members, the event provides a unique opportunity to appreciate the program’s creative work.