Thursday, April 20, 2017

Out here in Kansas

                          First trailer for Out Here in Kansas

Last night, I finally made it out to see a documentary film that's been making the rounds in Kansas and has been entered in film festivals in this state as well as in Colorado, Oklahoma and Missouri. The film is Out Here in Kansas and it marks the directorial debut of a good friend of mine and friend to this blog, Adam Knapp.

To summarize it succinctly, and as Adam might put it, the 30-minute documentary explores the often conflicting worlds of Christianity and homosexuality. But it's more than that. Adam captures the good, bad and ugly of the Kansas ethos as only a born and bred Kansas boy could do. The hard working-worship God-meat and potatoes ethic and red state stubbornness. But our world is changing.

People of LGBTQ persuasion are asserting their rights to be who they are and to enjoy the freedoms and legal protections others take for granted. As much as old school Kansans might want to live in denial and bring back the early ages, LGBTQ individuals are not going back to the closet. Adam doesn't steer away from the elephant in the room. He confronts it and does so using the clever story telling skills he honed in more than 20 years as a working journalist.

Adam is a long-time newspaper and online reporter. For around 20 years, he covered sports for The Wichita Eagle. His idea for the film sprang from two stories he had written about Burt Humburg, an All American football tackle who distinguished himself on the gridiron, first for Andover High School in the early '90s, then for Southwestern College, a small Methodist liberal arts school in Winfield, Kan. As a student athlete, Burt came to the realization that he was gay and came out to his coach, his fellow players and his mother.

Growing up, Burt and his family attended Central Christian Church in Wichita, then led by Pastor Joe Wright. The pastor was a calming presence on the Humburg family. He was there for them after their home was destroyed in the 1991 Andover tornado and he officiated over the funeral of Burt's father. He was strong influence and respected figure to Burt.

Pastor Joe would also lead the fight against same sex marriage when it came to a ballot referendum in Kansas in 2005, well before the federal Supreme Court would have the final word on the matter.

In the film's climax, Burt, now a physician in Iowa, and his former pastor have a debate. They cover such matters as scripture, religious legalism and most predominantly whether homosexuality is a lifestyle choice or a trait one is born with. The exchange, filmed in the studio of Wichita public TV station KPTS, took place for 90 minutes, but was whittled down to five minutes for Out Here in Kansas. In today's shouting, name-calling culture, it's a huge credit to these two men that they aired their differences in a civil, rational manner.

This guy is serious

It was around four or five years ago. Maria and I had bought a new sofa and were giving the old couch to Adam who was moving into a new place in Andover. It was a Friday night, and Adam, who was editor of the now defunct Andover American told me about the story he was working on for the next week. The woman working in his office as an ad rep would come up with the crackerjack headline, "The Doctor is Out."

"He came from this Christian fundamentalist family and he discovered he was gay," Adam said, while we sat, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon after moving the furniture in. I wound up staying all night at his house that night.

"The poor bastard," I responded.

It was both an inappropriate and appropriate response.

Inappropriate because when you meet Burt you'll find that he's no poor, pitiful character. This is a man who is secure in his own skin. He possesses admirable self-confidence.

Appropriate because Burt went through personal hell, coming to terms with his sexuality. He tried to pray the gay away as it's called, but there was no changing who he was.

Adam told me about Burt's connection with Pastor Joe.

"I thought how I'd love to be a fly on the wall in a debate between those two," Adam said. "Then I thought, 'I don't have to be a fly. I can get them together and make a film."

I'm ashamed to admit it now, but I thought it was just a momentary thing and he'd soon forget about it. A few weeks later, Adam, myself and former Eagle reporter Bud Norman (man, I loved his writing) were having a few beers at Kirby's Beer Store, a little dive bar behind Wichita State University. Adam's interest in making a film hadn't abated.

"I just ran into Pastor Joe yesterday and that's another sign that I have to make this film," he said.

This time I knew he was going to do it. This guy is serious, I thought.

Although he'd written a couple of screen plays, Adam plunged into this project, not knowing anything about film making. He was smart enough to surround himself with people who could help bring his vision into reality.

Burt Humburg, Pastor Joe Wright & Adam Knapp

Stellar directorial debut

There was a lot of hard work with fundraisers, driving across the country and tracking people down to get film footage, but Adam and his crew made it happen. Out Here in Kansas had its debut last Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day at Wichita night club, Roxy's Downtown. Local TV personality Sierra Scott was emcee for the event. I intended to make it -- after all, a film only has a world premiere once -- but, due to my work schedule, I couldn't be there. There have been several other showings in Wichita and other Kansas communities, but for one reason or another I always had to take a rain check.

Until last Wednesday night. At long last, I finally saw the film at WSU's Campus Activities Center Theatre. It was playing at our alma mater where we'd learned journalism at the Elliott School of Communication under Les Anderson.

Wichita radio personality and local legend Greg "the hitman" Williams introduced the film.

"My daughter was gay," Williams said. "And it's the hardest thing to say that word, 'was.' She committed suicide at the age of 29. I'll be grieving for the rest of my life."

It was the first time Williams had spoken publicly about his daughter's suicide.

Then it was time for the movie. It was riveting, you could almost feel the Kansas wind throughout. I liked how Adam put himself in the film as narrator. It reminded me of Michael Moore, who does the same thing. I also liked how he put his kids -- daughter Stellar and son Dallas -- in the film.

A lesser talent might've vilified Pastor Joe, but Adam and his crew humanized him. Adam merely presented both sides and let the story tell itself. If anything, Pastor Joe comes across as a good human being with a lot of love to give, but who is held back by Biblical legalism.

And Burt -- well he seemed to me like  a knock-you-on-your-ass guy who will be analytical about doing it.

I'd been told that my name was listed in the credits. I merely helped as a grip one day, but to be fair, it was during the filming of some key scenes. Anyway, I went in, waiting to catch my name, but I forgot to look. As the credits were rolling, my head was down as I contemplated the film's last scene. It was a surprise twist that brought the story full-circle. I didn't catch my name on the screen, but that just gives me an excuse to see the film again.

Jon Pic, Greg "the hitman" Williams, Adam Knapp, Danielle Johnson and Alicia Sanchez
After the film showing, Adam and Jon Pic, who produced the film, held a Q & A session with the audience. At one point, Adam talked about getting ready to film a scene in our hometown of Augusta, Kan. and getting into a conversation with this old lady about the film and how she said she didn't like "the gays." It was funny because I was with him during that conversation. It was the day I met Burt.

"She went to the church I went to as a kid," Adam said. Also, my childhood church.

When it was over, I turned around & talked to Adam's 16-year-old daughter, Stellar, who was sitting by a friend in the row behind me.

"I guess you've been to a lot of these things," I said and she nodded her head in a yes motion. "I'm chagrined to say this is my first time to see it. I'm late for the party."

There are plans to eventually put Out Here in Kansas online. I told Jon how cool it would be to see a DVD or Blue Ray of the film in our hometown library. That's something that will have to wait for after the film festivals and contests. Oh, and I've told Adam how cool it would be if the film were shown at the Augusta Theatre. The greatest movie house in the world!

As the film becomes more accessible, the out-of-state readers of this blog will get a chance to see it and know what I'm talking about.

I'm all for every artistic endeavor Adam takes on. He's supported this blog right smack from the beginning when I didn't have any other readers and didn't know what I would do with it. For that, I'll forever be in his debt.

I want you to know that Out Here in Kansas has its own blog where you can keep abreast of the film as well as people and events related to it. There's also a Facebook page, a Twitter site and you can find them on Instagram. I encourage you to follow these sites if you're not already. And if you haven't already, when you get a chance, you've gotta see this movie.

I'm sure you'll come away with something good.

                        Second trailer for Out Here in Kansas

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