Style Weekly | Karen Newton
Kevin Willmott is that rare professor of film who got to share an Oscar with iconic filmmaker Spike Lee. The screenwriter, director, actor and University of Kansas faculty member shared a 2018 Academy Award for best screenplay with Lee for “BlacKkKlansman.”
This year’s James River Film Festival will screen the popular film along with Willmott’s satirical mockumentary, “Confederate States of America” from 2004.
Style Weekly spoke with Wilmott in advance of his appearance in Richmond.
Style Weekly: You loved movies from an early age, but when did the film writing bug first hit you?
Kevin Willmott: It was pretty early. The film that had a big impact was “The Good the Bad and the Ugly.” I was in fifth grade and I asked my mother for the album of the soundtrack. When I was a teenager Gordon Parks and “The Learning Tree” and then “Shaft” and the blaxploitation films really defined my ambition.
In college, I was introduced to foreign films and I learned about subtext and, in general, art films brought film to another level for me: “Seven Beauties,” “Swept Away,” “The Verdict,” “Chariots of Fire,” “Chinatown,” “Nothing but a Man,” and “The Conversation.”
“BlacKkKlansman” is set in the 1970s. What appealed to you about the Ron Stallworth story and that era?
The ’70s was something I think appealed to Spike and I both: the music, the clothes, the politics. It is a great period. It allowed us to deal with black power politics in a way audiences had never seen before. It was such a unique story. We were able to have a great deal of fun while examining heavy-duty issue like hate and racism.
The students you teach film studies came up in a different world, film-wise and otherwise, than you did. What’s the most challenging part of teaching today?
Trying to explain my take on things is sometimes a challenge. What doesn’t speak to me, that they love, is always an interesting discussion. But as a whole there are very few differences. The principles that guide what makes a film great have never changed and probably never will. .....Read more