As is often the case with documentaries, I started out making a film about one thing, and it turned into something else. With Bill’s Run, I wanted to make a film about politics and family tradition. When my brother announced his candidacy for the Kansas House of Representatives, he was about to follow in the footsteps of our grandfather and our mother, who had served as Kansas’ Governor and U.S. Senator, respectively. For me, this raised many interesting questions about the nature of public service, including, why would anyone want to run for public office?
As I followed Bill on the campaign trail, the answer quickly became obvious. Many of the small towns that make up his rural district are facing a problem endemic to much of the Plains: people are leaving, and a way of life — one that I had come to take for granted — seems about to become a nostalgic memory.
What will be lost if these towns die? I tried to answer that question by focusing on one town in particular, Burdick, located just two miles from my brother’s farm. I became a regular at Burdick Oil gas station, where any stranger is welcome to pull up a chair. Earl and his sons, Jim and Phil, made me feel like part of the family. Consequently, the film deepened and became much more than just a story about my brother’s campaign.
Although the town exemplifies the bad times being had by hundreds of small towns throughout the Midwest, I hope viewers come away with a sense of the vitality that remains in places like Burdick. Its virtues may not jump out at you, but they are revealed, at their own pace.