Kansas City Strip

Just shoot me: The Kansas City Film Office, which has been threatened by city hall budget cuts, may not end up on the cutting-room floor after all. The office has lured millions of movie-making dollars and, when people like Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jewel are in town, made us feel special. In late March, the council decided to bankroll the office for another three months, giving councilman Everett Asjes, Convention and Visitors’ Bureau honcho Wayne Chappell and former mayor Richard Berkley enough time to round up other marquee names to produce a private-sector version.

Thus the Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee’s awards ceremony on Sunday was merely sprinkled, not drenched, with irony. Wrapping up a five-day celebration of independent filmmaking, the ceremony specifically honored Patti Watkins.

Although her January resignation as director of the film office reportedly was a “protest,” Watkins says it isn’t so. “I resigned in part because funding wasn’t increasing and we weren’t able to be as aggressive with marketing Kansas City in a competitive arena,” Watkins says. “I did not see that changing in the near future, so I was ready to try something else. What bothers me about the thought of a ‘protest’ was that we actually worked very closely with city hall [on film projects], and without their support — the streets, police and parks departments — we would not have been successful.”

Testimony to success came Sunday when Watkins read letters from such luminaries as Robert Altman, who wrote that it “would be a great shame” if the office closed. The letter from Hollywood golden boys James Shamus, Ted Hope and Ang Lee — the trio behind Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — made for even more dramatic reading. “Snaring film shoots these days is a bit like big game hunting … 90 percent of the work is in the smelling, tracking and stalking,” they wrote. “When we were prepping Ride With the Devil, we were under intense pressure from the studio to shoot the film in Texas…. We were able to make the argument to go to Kansas City with the ammo Patti and her colleagues supplied.

“If we could have made the case, we would have shot Crouching Tiger in Kansas City too. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait to shoot the infamous floating kung fu barbecue battle in the sequel.”

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