Two young filmmakers are determined to share the secret of their home state with the rest of the world.
One of those men, Patrick Ross, was in Hays Friday to share a portion of the film “Kansas: An Eclogue” and discuss the history of the state with a panel of some of the people he and Joshua Nathan met while walking across Kansas in 2015.
The discussion, in Fort Hays State University’s Albertson Hall, was the third in a series by the filmmakers and Kansas Humanities Council, which provided a grant for the film. The final discussion Saturday night in Garden City was to focus on the future of the state.
Ross, from Lawrence, and Nathan, from Moundridge, live in Los Angeles where they are working to establish themselves in the film industry. In their 2015 trip, they got off Amtrack’s Southwest Chief in Garden City and set out on foot to visit the Eight Wonders of Kansas — the Kansas Sampler Foundation’s guide to natural and man-made monuments of Kansas geography, history and culture.
Other than visiting the Eight Wonders, the pair had no strict itinerary for their seven-week excursion. They knocked on doors to ask permission to camp in fields and were sometimes invited into people’s homes to spend the night.
“Everyone we came across was amazing in their own right. There are countless films we could make from just standalone interviews,” Ross said.
The panelists Friday were among some of the people Ross and Nathan met during their trek:
• Paleontologists Barbara Shelton and Chuck Bonner, proprietors of Keystone Gallery in WaKeeney, who spoke about the “prehistory” of Kansas and those who pioneered paleontology in the state, including George F. Sternberg, for whom FHSU’s museum is named.
• Lil Grizz, New Alemlo, who is believed to be the only hatmaker in the country who uses a historical, non-mechanized method for making hats. He spoke of his and wife’s back-roads exploration of Kansas and the role railroads played in settlement.
• Angela Bates, Nicodemus, spoke of the exodus of former Kentucky slaves to the all-black settlement in Graham County and the efforts to make it a National Historic Site.
• Kenneth McClintock, Council Grove, who with his wife formed a nonprofit organization to save a historic structure in that town from demolition. They now operate it as the Trail Days Cafe and Museum and feature the area’s history as a rendezvous point for the Santa Fe Trail.
After each had spoken, Ross showed a portion of the film covering the state’s history, which discussed the rural population decline since the Great Depression and Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
That became a topic in the panel discussion that followed. Kim Perez, associate professor of history at FHSU and a board member of the Kansas Humanities Council, noted the historical portion of the film gave the impression the state is dying.
“I don’t see that. Every single narrative I see here appreciates the history,” she said, adding the appreciation of its history is an asset.
The panelists agreed.
“Even though population has declined in Graham County, we get people from all over the world,” Bates said of Nicodemus. “If we can attract their dollars, it continues to sustain us.”
Ross said the purpose of the film is to capture those assets Kansans know about for an audience not familiar with the state.
“Kansas holds great value of the natural resources that the land has and the people that live here. They’re so resilient. They put up with Kansas weather, people moving away, any number of difficulties. That is really a testament to the people that live here and the strength that it takes to live here,” Ross said.
“The rest of the film very much celebrates who we are as a state, who we are as native Kansans,” he said.
Ross and Nathan hope to have the film completed next year and plan to tour the state showing it. They also hope to have it shown by public television and streaming services.