Lights, camera, Kansas, action: ‘No Place Like Home’ the movie

Around here, the Oscars buzz this year is about University of Kansas film professor Kevin Willmott, who’s earned a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for co-writing “BlacKkKlansman” with Spike Lee.

Another of Willmott’s projects won’t ever be nominated for an Oscar, but is creating a whole different kind of buzz in certain Kansas circles: A film version of No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas.

“For me, making the documentary is an opportunity to tell the story of friends I’ve had that have been discriminated against and made to feel inferior,” Willmott says. “I hope telling their story helps people to understand those wrongs and commit to making Kansas and the nation a better place.”

Willmott’s a busy man, and his movies range from the big Spike Lee joints to his own projects like Jayhawkers and (my favorite) Confederate States of America to public-television-style documentaries like William Allen White: What’s the Matter with Kansas and Gordon Parks Elementary, about a school closed by the state of Missouri for low test scores.

It’s the production team behind Gordon Parks that’s now starting work on No Place Like Home, including my day-job colleague and KCUR office-mate Sam Zeff (who is also a busy man, producing the Archiver podcast at night and on weekends).

Eric J. Smith (left) and Sam Zeff filming on Sandra Stenzel’s farm in Trego County.

“The stories in the book moved me,” Zeff says. “What united all of these brave folks was that they were Kansans. That they wanted to make my home state a better place. So I wanted to spread that the best way I know how, and that’s with a film made by an amazing Kansas crew.”

I’ve always admired Willmott’s genius in using film as activism — and just plain activism, both of which I’ve written about for KCUR. The fact that he’s directing the film version of No Place Like Home is another mind-blowing development in a year of profound surprises since the book came out.

For the record, now that he’s directing the film, journalism ethics mandate that I won’t be able to write stories about him for KCUR anymore. It’s a trade-off I’ll accept.

The movie means we’ll get a chance to update the story, showing a bit of what’s happened since Kansas surprised the rest of the country this past November (those developments weren’t really so surprising to those of us who’ve been watching closely). But we’ll also ask some of the people who told their stories for the book to tell them all over again on film, like Sandra Stenzel did for the trailer.

With thanks to Humanities Kansas for its early support, and to filmmaker Eric J. Smith – and the prairie sunshine – for the flattering light, here’s a sneak preview:

LGBTQ Kansas is ready for its close-up.

A finished version is many months away and we still have a lot of money to raise. More information about the team, and how to support the project, is over on my website. Meanwhile, I’m thrilled to be getting back on the road again.

C.J. Janovy is the author of No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas. Follow her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.

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