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From Millersville to the Movie Screen

One Millersville grad is sharing her story through her own documentary film.

A Millersville grad is making a name for herself with her documentary “Paper Birds.”

Allison Connelly ’23, from Avondale, PA, has her own story to tell, and a passion to do so. Her documentary, “Paper Birds,” aims to bring attention to recovered and somatic memories through sharing her experiences.

In the fall of 2020, Connelly developed PTSD as a result of repressed trauma, referred to as delayed recall. Initially, this caused feelings of shame and self-blame, but after finding solace in the stories of others online, she saw an unfulfilled need for media representation. “I just really wanted to create a piece of media that other people, whose story sounded like mine, could resonate with and see their story on screen because I didn’t have that,” says Connelly.

A poster for Connelly's film. A young girl stands in front of a white door, wearing a yellow raincoat and blue boots. Her face is covered by the film's title "Paper Birds"
A poster for Connelly’s film

The film began production in November 2021 with the help of Millersville communications professor Dr. Changfu Chang and fellow students. As it is being developed intermittently, it is still in the works with hopes of completion in 2024. Connelly has already had the opportunity to screen her work-in-progress on two occasions: at the National Council of Undergraduate Research in April 2023 and at Tulsa Community College Research Retreat in October 2023.

In late 2022, Connelly applied to participate in the National Council of Undergraduate Research being held in April 2023. After being accepted, it was there that she first presented her project outside of a classroom setting. “I don’t think I could have asked for a better crowd because it was a very intimate, vulnerable moment, and I was just kind of accepted into open arms,” says Connelly. Following her screening and artist talk, she was approached by Mona Easterling, assistant professor at Tulsa Community College, who invited her to speak at the TCC Research Retreat later in the year.

Connelly attributes her success to her time at Millersville, where she majored in media arts production and minored in graphic communication technology. She especially expresses gratitude for her experiences with carrying out undergraduate research. As a transfer student during the COVID-19 pandemic, connections with professors and students were hard to establish virtually. “I feel like it allowed me to make connections where I didn’t get to the first two years,” says Connelly regarding her research. It was there where she felt immensely supported by her peers. “They wanted to help me advocate for this issue that didn’t personally afflict them, but because they saw the way it affected me and they became passionate about it,” says Connelly. She describes her time performing undergraduate research as, “free job training,” and says her experience at Millersville equipped her with the skills she utilizes now.

Connelly regards Dr. Chang as especially helpful in her education, particularly relevant to her film. Connelly initially had the idea to share her story on paper through photojournalism, but it was Chang who encouraged her to learn about documentary filmmaking and share her story on the screen. After she took the two-part documentary courses, Chang oversaw Connelly’s undergraduate research and acted as a mentor, teaching her further. As a documentary filmmaker himself, Chang had tips and tricks that can only be learned from doing. “I feel like those skills that are not really something you can read in a textbook is what I most got out of Millersville,” says Connelly.

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