LAWRENCE -- Kevin Willmott's new film, "Confederate States of America," which premieres in Lawrence at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, at Liberty Hall, includes a cast and crew of Kansans and Missourians.
Based on the premise that the South won the Civil War, Willmott's film uses a faux documentary style to tell the history of this country from the South's victory at Gettysburg through the present day. In the film, slavery is alive and well in modern America.
The film was shot on location in Humboldt, Lawrence and the Kansas City area using local talent. In addition, Willmott says that because this was a low-budget production he and his crew had to do a lot of bartering and ask a lot of favors, such as finding locations and borrowing costumes or props in those communities.
In Humboldt, he recruited 15 members of a re-enactment troupe known as The Plainsmen, complete with period costumes and horses to shoot a segment. The Humboldt troupe later brought some costumes and props to Lawrence to help film more segments from the 1860s with other actors.
In Kansas City, Willmott located a Victorian house with period furnishings and used it to shoot an interview with Abraham Lincoln -- who is not assassinated but rather exiled to Canada in defeat. In Lawrence, much of the film was shot at Oldfather Studios.
"One of the beauties of making films in Kansas and Missouri is that people are generally supportive," Willmott says.
"This community that you build through making the film is probably the thing that I like the most of the whole process," he says. "Students help us; actors help. The film community of Kansas City in particular is a big resource that we tap into. All of those things come together to make the film."
In Newton, he discovered Arlo Caspar, a retired professor of Bethel College who bears an uncanny resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. In Atchison, he found Rupert Pate, a history professor at Benedictine College who not only knew Civil War history but also had a great southern accent, Willmott says. He cast Pate as the historian for the South.
Because he depended far more on local talent for "CSA," Willmott says, this film was easier to make than "Ninth Street," his award-winning film based on his experiences growing up in Junction City.
Inspired by Ken Burns' documentary on the Civil War, Willmott's script uses a fictitious British film company, the BBS, to document the United States' history by interviewing historians and modern politicians and using old photographs and film footage. Seen on the "Confederate Television" station, the documentary contains TV commercials, often for drugs and devices to keep slaves under control. The commercials are part of Willmott's script.
Willmott says he quickly learned that Hollywood producers were not interested in producing films involving slavery. He began filming "CSA" with a small grant from the National Black Programming Consortium, a Public Broadcasting affiliate. He says he hopes that PBS is interested in his film.
"My filmmaking technique is: Just get started. With films that are difficult to find funding for, the quicker you get out there," Willmott says, the sooner you find support. "People see the film, hear about the film, see what you're doing. You get caught up in it and that's how the community kind of builds.
"We did it with our first film, 'Ninth Street,' and the same thing has kind of happened with 'CSA' as well."
Hometown information for featured cast and production members is:
Rupert Pate plays Shermon Hoyle, white historian for the South.
Sean Blake, senior in theatre and film, and son of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Blake; co-producer.
Jim and Debbie Lake, Sandy Wells, Rick Riley, John Booth, R.C. Brown, Shawn English, John Hodgden, Randy Downey, Bob and Venita Clark, Matt and Brett Dawson, Charlie Cress and Eric Cole, actors.
Rick and Jeanne Averill and Will Averill, actors; Ollie Hall, associate producer; Matt Jacobson, KU assistant professor of theatre and film, cinematographer; Novotny Lawrence, actor; and Marvin Voth, executive producer.
Arlo Caspar plays Abraham Lincoln.
From Waterloo, Iowa
Nathan Richardson, senior in theatre and film, and son of Lynn Richardson; assistant editor.
From Jefferson City, Mo.
Brian Woodman, doctoral student in theatre and film, and son of Elaine Schellmeyer; actor.
From Kansas City, Mo.
Mariieva Johnson plays the black historian for the North who is from the University of Montreal in the script. Larry Peterson plays John Ambrose Fauntroy V, the only fictional character in the film. Willmott created the Fauntroy family to provide a Southern political dynasty similar to the Kennedy family. Rick Cowan, producer; Kerwin Looney, associate producer; and Benjamin Mead, co-producer.
From Medellin, Colombia
Fernando Arenas, doctoral student in theatre and film, actor.