Filmmaker hopes to put spotlight on Kansas


AP Photo

Kevin Willmott, an assistant professor in the film department at Kansas University, hopes his film, "C.S.A.: Confederate States of America'' will show that feature films can be made in Kansas. "C.S.A." will be featured at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival.

— Lawrence filmmaker Kevin Willmott says Hollywood has nothing on Kansas when it comes to making movies.

Willmott, whose movie "C.S.A. The Confederate States of America" will play this week at the famed Sundance Film Festival, praised his home state during a news conference Friday with Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

"One of the things that people don't realize ... everyone who worked on this film was from this area. It's not like you have to come from L.A. to make a film here," Willmott said.

Willmott, an assistant professor in the film department at Kansas University, said Kansas had a deep bench of technicians and actors from which to draw.

He said the rich history of Kansas was critical to his movie, which has been described as a mock documentary that examines what life would have been like if the South had won the Civil War.

"The film follows the abolitionist legacy that founded this state," Willmott said.

Referring to the famous John Steuart Curry mural of John Brown in the Capitol, Willmott said, "John Brown is above and serves as a symbol of the many African-Americans who came to the state seeking a better life encouraged by the legacy of Bleeding Kansas. Kansas is a great place to make a film. We could never have made 'C.S.A.' anyplace else but Kansas."

Plus, the Junction City native said, it's less expensive to make a movie in Kansas than Hollywood. Kansas also offers an easier lifestyle for families, he said.

The Kansas film industry generated about $11 million last year. In conjunction with the screening of "C.S.A.," the state film commission will stage receptions at the Sundance festival, in Park City, Utah, to try to raise awareness about Kansas as a possible location for movies and television shows.

Willmott and cinematographer Matt Jacobson said "C.S.A." cost about $1 million to make and was shot over a three-year period in Lawrence and the Kansas City, Kan., area.

"It was raise money, shoot, raise money, shoot," Willmott said.

"You can make feature films that will find a national audience in Kansas," Jacobson said.

Willmott said he hoped to make a deal at the Sundance festival to distribute the movie nationally. Filmmaker Spike Lee liked the movie and may help out, Willmott said.

"Being an independent filmmaker is quite a bit like being a farmer," Willmott said. "Right now, we've harvested our crop, we're taking it to market and we hope to come back with a check at some point."

Sebelius called Willmott a great promoter of Kansas.

"We want to make sure Kansans know about this talent in our midst before he becomes an international star at Sundance," she said.


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