The Jubilant Grad
For Andrews, It's Lights, Camera, Action Independent Style
By Jeff Murphy
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Although you wouldn't know it by his University of Central Missouri diploma, Fred Andrews is an astute student of filmmaking. Ask this political science and economics major what it takes to make a good movie or what he's doing to share the work of Kansas City area filmmakers, and his passion for the craft glistens through his words like the neon in the city's Westport District. That is where he has dedicated the last several years of his life sharing movies and the work of filmmakers, many of them unknown, with an audience he measures now by the thousands.
One cold, snowy afternoon in early December, Andrews settles into a seat at a table in the back of the Westport Coffee House on Pennsylvania Avenue. The national entertainment media is already abuzz with predictions about nominees for the 81st Academy Awards. Although it's a topic that could prompt a lot of opinion sharing, particularly by a film lover such as Andrews, on this afternoon his focus is not on Hollywood. Instead, he's thinking about ways he can better promote the thriving local film culture. He's pondered this question for the past 13 years, since he established the first Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee. The event is truly a labor of love that began with a simple idea about ways to tap into the creative culture.
"At the time, I was on the board of the local film society and was doing their monthly programs," he says. "That's when I discovered there was a film community here."
The community has existed for decades, he notes, although it may not be widely known outside the city. He points out, for example, that the grandfather of film director and former Kansas Citian Robert Altman was one of the founders of the locally based Calvin Communications. At its peak, the company was the world's largest producer of educational and industrial films and was a major processor of Kodak film. Calvin's business declined after the advent of video, but many of the individuals who got their start with the organization remained in the community. They seeded the city with their own production companies and practiced their craft.
Given its central location, Kansas City also served as a national hub for the distribution of Hollywood movies. "All of the major studios [such as MGM and Paramount] had distribution offices here," says Andrews.
In his quest to recapture the city's vibrant film history, he incorporated local filmmakers into the group's programs.Wanting a stronger venue to showcase their work, he proposed the creation of a jubilee. The idea gained tremendous support from his board although he had to raise his own funds to launch the one-day affair.
To finance the event, he collected entry fees on the 27 films he received, giving him a meager $270 to pay for the day's activities. He also took advantage of donations, including use of a 450-seat auditorium at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
"The reason I called it a jubilee was because it was a celebration of the creative process," he says. "My feeling was that if you do right by the artists, you'll do right by the audience."
"It wasn't long before people were asking me, 'Are you going to do it again, Fred?' Well, 12 years later, I'm still doing it."
- Fred Andrews
Because Andrews had never attended a film festival, he didn't know what to expect in terms of audience participation. Midwestern film buffs didn't let him down. A standing-room-only crowd attended the first jubilee, which included screening for 10 films selected by a panel of judges.
"We received good coverage from the press, which I credit for everybody showing up, plus the filmmakers brought their friends and stuff. It wasn't long before people were asking me, 'Are you going to do it again, Fred?' Well, 12 years later, I'm still doing it," he smiles.
As the smell of freshly brewed coffee meanders through the air at one of his favorite Westport spots, Andrews talks about the work that lies ahead of him. He expects to devote nearly 1,000 hours of his spare time to the upcoming jubilee, or as it will now be known, Kansas City FilmFest. He and others associated with the jubilee have entered a joint venture with the long-running event, being held this year from April 22-26. He aspires to make it more nationally known, an effort that is gaining momentum.