Film project launched to celebrate 150th birthday of William Allen White


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When a young Kevin Willmott was attending elementary school, his teachers used one man to paint a picture of an idealistic, quintessential journalist. That journalist was William Allen White.

Willmott, a film professor at the University of Kansas, alongside producer Scott Richardson, will create a full-length feature film on White to help extend his legacy as his 150th birthday approaches next year.

“When the subject of journalism was brought up, it was all talked about through the history of William Allen White,” Willmott said. “He’s an amazing guy.”

The William Allen White Foundation, in coordination with the KU Endowment Association and the Kansas Newspaper Foundation, is organizing the funding of the film, which has an estimated budget of $200,000.

Though much of White’s life has been preserved and recorded through biographies, along with his countless written works, the film will attempt to present topics that have previously taken a backseat to his journalism career.

Currently, more than $110,000 has been raised toward the project’s goal.

“We want to help keep his legacy alive or at least help keep it alive for future generations,” said Dave Seaton, the chairman of the committee that’s been formed to raise funds for the film. “We feel like a movie is one way to do that.”

The film is being produced for national distribution and is expected to run for 50 minutes, along with an eight- to 10-minute video to be distributed to schools and colleges. The short version of the film is one way Seaton thinks it can help spread education about White and his legacy.

“His editorial on his daughter Mary’s death and his other editorials are taught in many Kansas schools as good examples of writing and journalism,” Seaton said.

When Willmott first heard of the film, he was immediately interested, not only because of his history in Kansas — he created “Jayhawkers," a film about Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas basketball in 2014 — but because of White’s fight to push racist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan out of Kansas.

White’s activism as a progressive Republican and his commitment to racial tolerance are parts of White’s life the film will center on.

“My father would talk about how, on the Fourth of July, there would be parades and the Klan would proudly march down the street,” Willmott said. “The fact that William Allen White was really the person that was responsible for running the entire organization out of the state, that’s pretty amazing.”

The William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications has been involved since the idea of a film about White was planted in 2015.

“The School of Journalism and the foundation are really the national seat for keeping alive the William Allen White legacy. They’ve done more than any institution, to my knowledge, to do that,” Seaton said. “They’re providing us a list of trustees to send fundraising letters to, they’ve encouraged our committee, and they’ve made us a part of the plans for the 150th anniversary.”

Though Seaton said the funding is moving onto foundations and corporations with the help of KU Endowment, the project is still asking for donations to produce the film.

“We hope it all comes together,” Willmott said. “We’re very excited to work on it when the time comes for us to do that.”

–– Christian Hardy is a senior from Derby, Kansas, studying news and information.


How to help: Donations for the film are tax deductible and can be sent to KU Endowment at P.O. Box 928, Lawrence, KS, 66604-0928 with "WA White film" in the memo line.