EXCLUSIVE: Music Box Films has acquired U.S. rights to Happy Valley, the A&E IndieFilms-funded documentary about the aftermath of the conviction of former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky for molesting young boys — some of which was perpetrated in the locker room where Sandusky brought the kids after hours under the guise of his charity.
The film was directed by Amir Bar-Lev, who helmed the superb The Tillman Story, about the military cover-up of the friendly-fire killing of football star-turned-Army Ranger. Happy Valley is produced by Passion Pictures’ John Battsek, Asylum Entertainment’s Jonathan Koch and Steve Michaels, along with Ken Dornstein, and was executive produced by A&E IndieFilms’ Molly Thompson, Bob DeBitetto and David McKillop. The film premiered in Sundance and has played several festivals. It will be released in November in day-and-date fashion.
For those who’ve followed from afar the shocking firing of legendary Penn State head coach Joe Paterno — he died before the NCAA vacated his status as football’s winningest Division I head coach and tore down his iconic bronze statue — the documentary answers a lot of questions that began cropping up when the scandal erupted in late 2011. Those interviewed include Paterno’s wife and sons, as well as the stepson of Sandusky who describes how he showed up for courtroom testimony on the side of the Sandusky family, listened to the testimony of a victim, went home, looked in the mirror and made a decision. He made himself available as a prosecution witness, saying he could no longer conceal his own abuse story at the hands of a pillar of the community, who got the courts to take the young man away from his family when Sandusky decided to adopt him.
What emerges is a coterie of small tragedies—including the guilt, shame and anger that led residents and students to be pitted against one another over whether Paterno was a hero or an enabler. This included the artist who painted a popular mural of the Penn State football family. He first painted Sandusky out of the mural, and later removed a halo that rested above the head of Paterno. All this as a result of a pedophile who operated for years, in plain sight. Several Penn State administrators still face criminal charges that they, along with Paterno, swept the abuse allegations under the rug and didn’t even call the police when a graduate assistant reported seeing Sandusky molesting a boy in the showers.
“Happy Valley is a revealing post-mortem and a coda to a story we only thought we knew,” said Ed Arentz, Managing Director of Music Box.
Interestingly, Al Pacino said in Toronto interviews he’d seen the film and around that time, HBO put the brakes on its movie called Happy Valley, the Brian De Palma-directed film that will star Pacino as Paterno. The payweb has said that it wanted to do more work on the script to ensure the story is right. It is unclear whether Pacino raised questions after seeing this docu, but it is clear from Bar-Lev’s film how challenging it is to take a definitive position on who besides Sandusky is a villain or a victim. Among those dissecting those complicated feelings is Joe Posnanski, who wrote the book (with Paterno’s cooperation) that is the basis for the HBO film.
“There’s a story here with human drama that can’t be fully captured by the news,” said Bar-Lev. “I’m pleased that Music Box will help us bring that story to a wide audience.” Submarine brokered the deal.