Q: What prompted you to tell this story?

A: I live in New York City, but I return to my home state of Kansas whenever I have a chance.  On my trips home over the years I’ve noticed the small town I grew up in is fading fast:  mom-and-pop businesses have closed, churches have shut their doors for good, and the young leave the first chance they get.  Because of this, I felt a need to record my memories, both good and bad, of my life there in the 1970s and 80s.  Also, my city slicker children constantly ask me to tell them stories about growing up in Kansas.  For them, it was an exotic time and place, and that also prompted me to make the film.

Q: What places this story in its particular time and place? What was it about growing up in Kansas and in the 1980s that makes this story unique?

A: First, Kansas in the 1980s was a place gripped by doomsday paranoia.  The state was chock full of nuclear missiles aimed at the Soviet Union.  Then, Hollywood made The Day After, a movie about the effects of nuclear war on, of all places, Kansas.  Add to that, the ministers and teachers were spreading the gospel of Armageddon – at any moment we were going to die, because the Bible told us so. Secondly, something new called MTV arrived in our living rooms. Suddenly, gender-bending singers like Boy George, Annie Lennox, and David Bowie were dancing on our TV screens.  Kansans, a largely conservative lot, struggled to make sense of this strange new world coming at them.  Those of us more free spirited found this new culture of self expression to be liberating.  Suddenly, being weird was cool.

Q: Similarly, what did growing up in that time and place leave with your subjects as they got older that they might not have if you grew up somewhere else? What did that particular experience imprint on them?

A: Kansas gave me my wife, who I love and adore.  I met her there when she was fourteen and I was sixteen, and we now have two great kids.  I was very lucky in that respect. You see, in rural states like Kansas a lot of couples hook up young and stick together for life. Kansas also gave me a career.  I’ve written four books about the place, loosely based on people I knew.  When I was thirteen, novelist Leonard Bishop moved to my hometown and befriended my dad.  Leonard taught me the importance of being creative, but he also taught me that the creative life requires work and discipline.  Finally, Kansas gave me a permanent sense of identity.  When you come from a small town where everyone knows everyone else, where Dad is the town doctor, where your immigrant great grandparents broke sod in 1880, you have an identity for life.  It doesn’t matter where you go to college (or, if you go to college), how successful you become, or what car you drive, because, in a small town, you are born into a role.  Of course, for many people, this is a curse.

Q: What would you like your audience to learn about where/when your subjects grew up by watching this film?

A: I want them to see that people in small towns aren’t just George Baileys and Gomer Pyles.  Sure, you have hopeless dreams and hayseeds in small towns, but people are also very complex in small places. I’ve lived in New York and L.A. most of my adult life and I’m yet to meet people who can be as sociable and as open as some of the people in my hometown.  Because everyone knows everyone, and they see each other every day, living in a small town can be like living in the world’s largest cocktail party.  You have to be very socially adroit to navigate a scene like that.  Don Cato and I made My Kansas in the style it’s in for a reason:  all too often small towns are portrayed as sleepy places.  They are that, from the outside, but when I was growing up there, with undiagnosed attention problems, my mind was all over the map:  planning, socializing, romanticizing, making up stories.  I was totally Type A, never sitting still.  To make My Kansas in a traditional documentary style would not have been true to character.





© 2014 Chain NYC Film Festival