KU News Release

Jan. 28, 2011
Contact: Tamara Falicov, Department of Film and Media Studies, 785-864-1353

Doctoral student’s film on Topeka movie palace premieres on Kansas Day

Juli Pitzer (Photo: E. Drake Photography, Topeka)

LAWRENCE — A documentary on a Topeka movie palace by a University of Kansas graduate student premieres at 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29, on WIBW-TV.

“Preserving the Past: Topeka’s Jayhawk Theatre” was written, directed and produced by Juli Pitzer, doctoral student in film and media studies. Her film is airing on Kansas Day as part of WIBW’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of statehood for Kansas.

The 20-minute film follows the story of the Jayhawk Theatre, a 1926 movie palace, through its glory days before World War II until its closing in 1976.

“With the decline of downtowns across the country, Topeka hopes to revitalize and preserve its heritage in order to rekindle life once held on Kansas Avenue, Topeka’s main downtown street,” Pitzer said. The theater’s address is 790 Jackson Ave.

“The future of the Jayhawk Theatre rests in the hope of revitalization,” she said. “I hope that this film will do well on the film festival circuit. That is the next step.”

The film, which was finished this week, was funded in part with a grant from the Kansas Humanities Council.

Pitzer began researching Topeka’s old movie and vaudeville palace in 2008 after representatives of Historic Jayhawk Theatre Inc., a nonprofit group, e-mailed KU looking for a volunteer. With an undergraduate degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an interest in old movie theaters, Pitzer considered it “a perfect match.” She had researched an old movie palace in Eau Claire for her undergraduate thesis.

For background on the Jayhawk Theatre, Pitzer began viewing microfilm in KU’s Watson Library. Her work led to a paper for a film history class taught by Michael Baskett, associate professor in film and media studies, in spring 2009.

Although she knew that the topic would be a “fantastic documentary,” it wasn’t until Pitzer began a summer internship with the Kansas Humanities Council that she saw a way to fund a film. While working with the council to create grants for its new program Film Lovers in Kansas, Pitzer decided to apply for a short-film grant.

In January 2010, she applied to do a film on the Jayhawk Theatre and received a grant.

Pitzer credits several KU faculty and staff in the Department of Film and Media Studies as well as students for helping her produce the documentary.

Robert Hurst, assistant professor, has helped her with some of the editing process as part of an Intensive Film Project Seminar. Staff members Che Butterfield and John McCluskey assisted with use of film equipment.

Three undergraduate students played key roles. Grant Allen Babbitt, a senior from Lenexa, was director of photography; Patrick Alan Monroe, a senior from Overland Park, was audio mixer and recordist; and Caleb Christian Knueven, a senior from Fort Leavenworth, was the graphics and visual effects editor. Daniel J. Mauro, a spring 2010 master’s graduate in film and media studies, helped during the pre-production phase as a production assistant. Sho Ogawa, a doctoral student in film and media studies, played a key role as a production assistant throughout the filmmaking process. Sam Billen, a staff member in the Office of Study Abroad, created the original musical score.

Christy Davis of Davis Preservation in Topeka served as a historian consultant on the project, and Kathy Duncan of the Historic Jayhawk Theatre Inc. has been the community consultant.

Pitzer hopes to write her dissertation on movie theater technology and the converging technologies of the new digital 3-D format. Tamara Falicov, chair of film and media studies, is Pitzer’s dissertation adviser. Once she has completed a doctorate, Pitzer plans to teach at a university and work on short films and documentaries.

Students involved in the project are listed below by hometown, level in school, major, parents’ names and high school.

From Lenexa 66219
Grant Allen Babbitt, senior in film and media studies; Linda L. Babbitt; Shawnee Mission West High School

From Overland Park 66213
Patrick Alan Monroe, senior in film and media studies; Mark and Joanne Monroe; Blue Valley Northwest High School

From Fort Leavenworth 66027
Caleb Christian Knueven, senior in film and media studies; Tracy and Luise Knueven; Leavenworth Senior High School

From Almond 14804
Daniel J. Mauro, spring 2010 master’s degree in film and media studies; bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester

From Eau Claire
Juli Pitzer, doctoral student in film and media studies; master’s degree in communications: film and video production from the University of Memphis; bachelor’s degree from University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

From Suita-Shi
Sho Ogawa, doctoral student in film and media studies

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