Kevin Willmott

KU’s Kevin Willmott

All filmmakers live in Hollywood. They drive fancy cars and “do lunch” and create blockbusters where things explode. Right? 

Wrong. In fact, filmmaker Kevin Willmott (pictured left) is the perfect homegrown rebuttal to that West-Coast stereotype. 

Willmott, associate professor of film and media studies at the University of Kansas, will appear at JCCC twice during the fall semester. 

His first presentation, sponsored by the Kansas Studies Institute, is “Race, History and Being a Kansas Filmmaker” at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 26, in Hudson Auditorium at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art on campus. A reception in the atrium is at 6:30, and the public is invited to attend. 

As a screenwriter, Willmott co-wrote screenplays bought by Hollywood’s Chris Columbus and Oliver Stone and by executives at CBS and NBC. His own film, “CSA: Confederate States of America,” answered the question of what the United States would have been like had the South won the Civil War. 

Willmott’s presentation at JCCC will focus not only on what it means to be an African-American filmmaker, but also as a Kansas-born filmmaker living and working in Kansas. 

He said he likes making movies in the Midwest. 

“There’s a different atmosphere in Hollywood, where everything is dependent on money. Here, everyone wants to help you,” he said. “We go into these small towns [to shoot scenes], and it’s amazing how much everyone wants to help you. It’s sort of this whole, ‘Let’s build a barn together’ mentality that you don’t get many other places.” 

In his second appearance, he’ll show his film “From Separate to Equal: The Creation of Truman Medical Center” at 11 a.m. Oct. 10, also in Hudson Auditorium. The movie will serve as a cinematic introduction to the book chosen as JCCC’s Common Read for 2012-13: “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. 

Henrietta Lacks, a black woman from Virginia, died of cervical cancer in 1951, and her cells – taken without her knowledge or the consent of her family – were used in medical research. The book details the little-known Lacks and shares the effects of this medical research on Lacks’ family. 

Both the film and the book examine how the health care establishment treated the black population of the U.S. in the 20th century. 

“The film ties together [with the book] because in one of the first scenes, we show a Kansas City newspaper article from 1898… a black man had been shot, and the police were taking him to the hospital. But he was so afraid of the hospital – so afraid that they were going to experiment on him – that he jumped out of the ambulance, and he preferred to have a police surgeon fix him up at the station than go to the hospital,” Willmott said. 

 “All of this happens because of segregated medicine and the double standard of medicine in the country,” he said. “And that’s what most of my films deal with – to put a human face to the problem, and to show the absurdity of slavery and segregation.”