Jayhawkers image Jayhawkers imageJayhawkers image

April 05 — April 13


Unrated, may contain subject matter and language; 104 minutes.

Link to film's website

Sat & Sun 11:00 a.m. ONLY
Mon-Thurs 7:15 p.m. ONLY

Unless otherwise noted, films begin on Friday and run through the next Thursday.

This film will be shown on April 5 & 6 at 11:00 a.m., April 7 through 10 at 7:15 p.m., and April 12 & 13 at 11:00 a.m.

Kevin Willmott doesn’t just teach cinema in the classroom as an Associate Professor in the Film Studies Department at the University of Kansas—he also educates (and entertains) through the medium of film itself, writing, producing, and directing provocative, fascinating movies that illuminate areas of American culture that mainstream films have ignored. His breakthrough feature was C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, a mockumentary detailing life in an alternative universe United States—one where the South won the Civil War. Devastatingly satirical, wildly imaginative yet extremely relevant to the U.S.A. in our “real world,” frequently hilarious and deliberately discomforting, C.S.A. lived up to its opening epigram from George Bernard Shaw: “If you’re going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh: otherwise they’ll kill you.” Willmott followed this with other hard-hitting explorations of race, history, and human dignity, including Bunker Hill and The Only Good Indian. Willmott, a Junction City native, is a true independent filmmaker, with no studio mandating his content or tempering his artistic vision. His latest film (partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign) focuses on a subject quite close to home: KU basketball. Specifically, Jayhawkers deals with the college basketball scene of the 1950’s. Originally planned as a Wilt Chamberlain biopic, Willmott and co-producer/co-writer Scott Richardson widened the canvas to deal with the racial and social barriers confronted by KU Chancellor Franklin Murphy, Coach Dick Harp and former coach Forrest “Phog” Allen, and all the Jayhawk players on the legendary 1957 team. This is a story not just about a basketball team becoming integrated, but how a community dealt with integration—a precursor to the more violent clashes that would characterize much of the Civil Rights Movement nationwide in the 1960’s. Chamberlain was one of the first high school superstars to be courted by colleges across the country: UCLA offered him movie roles; the University of Pennsylvania (literally) offered him diamonds. Standing 7′ 1″, Wilt was a Goliath, a giant so formidable that the rules of basketball had to be changed to prevent his total dominance—but it was the intense media scrutiny, the pressure to live up to his hype, and his abhorrence of segregation that helped turn him into a David—a champion for human rights, integration, mutual respect, and broadened understanding. His decision to come to Lawrence and play for KU brought culture shock (and almost caused Wilt to leave the school). Disappointed that he wouldn’t get to play for the recently-retired Phog Allen, Chamberlain retreated from the spotlight, immersing himself in the “underground” black community. But gradually he stepped up to help the Jayhawks not only change the game of basketball, but the hearts and minds of people all over the country. The film culminates in one of the most exciting National Championship games in NCCA Men’s Division I Basketball history, a triple-overtime thriller pitting Kansas against undefeated North Carolina—but even more exciting is how the Jayhawks solidified into a team and became a model for integration badly needed at the time. Moviegoers don’t need to be fans of Wilt the Stilt, college basketball, or KU to get caught up in the fascinating Kansas history (the film takes place only a year after the famous Brown vs. Board of Education lawsuit) and timeless, uplifting human story, with its still-needed message of unity and respect for all races. With fine performances from newcomer Justin Wesley as Chamberlain, Kansas City native Kip Niven as Allen, KU alum Jay Karnes as Murphy, and many other actors born in Kansas or graduated from KU (such as former Jayhawk Scot Pollard), Willmott’s finely-crafted film has a sense of authenticity, real involvement, honesty, and spiritual kinship with the Midwest that the most well-intentioned Hollywood films can’t touch. Jayhawkers will entertain any audience and its concerns are universal, but it’s also a movie about Kansas that has special resonance for Kansans. It was created by people who know the region, understand its people, take pride in its history, but can talk truthfully and respectfully about where we came from—and how far we’ve grown. The connecting thread to Willmott’s work is sensitivity, and this makes Jayhawkers emotionally appealing because it’s made by an “insider.” Hollywood films depicting racism, segregation, and civil rights pioneers generally present the everyday folk in their settings as close-minded bigots rather than genuine people capable of change. Willmott gets closer to the truth of human nature, creating a far more subtle, realistic portrait of how people evolve and history gets made. Filled with nice period detail, intelligent dialogue, heartfelt performances, and memorable characterizations, Jayhawkers is not just “educational,” it’s impressive story-telling that gives a 55-year old slice of Kansas history new vitality and interest for today’s filmgoer.

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Non-members: $8

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