Not everyone can make it to the French Riviera for the glitz and glamour of Cannes, but the ingeniously titled Kan Film Festival gives local filmmakers their own chance to shine. Now in its eleventh year, the competition for Kansas and Missouri residents or students (with an extra category for professionals working nationally) showcases films in several genres, including drama or comedy, documentary and music video as well as a division called “Original” devoted to experimental and animated films. The top five entries in each category and age group (eligibility starts with first-graders) screen on Saturday at the Lied Center in Lawrence.
With home video and digital technology widely available, film is not the exclusive media it once was. Kan organizers want to reflect this change by providing a venue for budding directors. “We want to identify filmmakers that have potential, need nurturing and could use a little money in their pocket,” says Executive Director Pat Hamarstrom. Judges, Hamarstrom says, look for “creative edge.”
Although the festival aims to encourage students, it’s not a forum for home movies. The three-day event includes two feature-length films by critically admired directors — Ben Meade’s Das Bus premieres on Friday at the Glenwood Arts Theatre, and Crown Center shows Kevin Wilmott’s C.S.A. on Thursday. (Both films are followed by Q&A sessions with the directors and casts.)
Upon C.S.A. ‘s original release in 2001, Willmott, a film professor at the University of Kansas, still saw it as a work-in-progress; Thursday’s screening will be his latest version. The film is a satirical, Ken Burns-style look at the imaginary Confederate States of America in an alternate present: The South has won the Civil War and slavery is still a way of life. Willmott spent two years shooting the various scenes, which include a recreation of Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith’s controversial silent epic; still photos of the Southern victory at Gettysburg; historical newsreels; and periodic interruptions for commercial breaks featuring useful new implements for controlling slaves. Could it have happened? That’s not really the point. Laughing uncomfortably makes us think more carefully about who we are.
This double edge of darkness and humor is echoed (with a less-serious point) in one of Saturday’s open-division Drama/Comedy winners. The Search for Inflata-Boy, another faux documentary, follows an attempt to track down a highly dangerous human/rubber-ducky crossbreed. Filmmaker Patrick Rea keeps the tone sinister as the story becomes increasingly ridiculous, poking a less-than-subtle jab at media hysteria and earnest monster hunters.
Despite this parallel, the festival is notable for its variety. Nearly 200 filmmakers submitted their work this year, showing a wide difference in ages and budgets. Ultimately, the Kan festival is a refreshing reminder that films are still a means of expression, not just a handy way to sell popcorn.