Richard Kassebaum – In Memoriam

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We were deeply saddened to hear the news of the passing of filmmaker Richard Kassebaum. Richard was an award-winning producer and director who worked on many projects for PBS including serving as a co-producer on Woodrow Wilson for American Experience, and the four-hour PBS special Kingdom of David.

Richard KassebaumIn 2004 we had the pleasure of presenting Richard’s film Bill’s Run on POV As the son of the noted and much admired former U.S. Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum, and the grandson of Alf Landon, the former Governor of Kansas and Republican presidential nominee, Richard grew up in a family steeped in politics and public service. So it was only natural that when his brother Bill decided to run for a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives, Richard’s filmmaking and political instincts kicked in. He knew there was good story in the race of a rancher/lawyer and moderate Republican challenging the entrenched conservative incumbent.

Bill’s Run followed the candidates as they made the circuit of county fairs, community picnics, door-to-door canvassing, and candidates’ nights that make up the political rounds in rural Kansas, and also introduced us to a cast of wonderfully candid characters who revealed just how up close and personal rural politics can be. Richard tackled the subject with unfailing good humor, respect and warmth for the people of in the film. Bill’s Run was truly an independent documentary with Richard serving as producer, director, editor and cinematographer.

Richard said at the time, “In Bill’s Run, we wanted to track the real, everyday issues that can divide even as politically homogenous an area as rural Kansas. We also wanted to capture the flavor of small-town plains democracy in action.” His deep affection for those small Kansas towns was palpable in the film.

Richard Kassebaum’s Bill’s Run was broadcast on POV in 2004.

We work with a lot of filmmakers at POV, and we demand a lot from them as we prepare for their national broadcast. Working on press, outreach and the websites — all at the same time — can be overwhelming and very stressful. But Richard was always a delight to work with. Modest and kind, enthusiastic and warm, Richard was in possession of a deep empathy which shines through in the very human aspects of his work.

Shortly before his death, Richard emailed me to let me know that he was working on a film about his mother and his illness — he had been a diagnosed with a malignant glioma. As he described it, the film was the final part of a trilogy about family and politics. He promised to send a rough cut in a few weeks and was enthusiastic about working with POV again. Unfortunately, Richard passed away before the film could be finished, but a remarkable circle of long-time collaborators who deeply admired Richard are committed to finishing the film — so keep an eye out for Journey With My Mom, and remember one of the true gentlemen of the documentary film world.

To watch an interview with the charming, self-effacing and very smart filmmaker please visit the website for Bill’s Run.

Simon Kilmurry
Simon Kilmurry
Simon served as chief operating officer of American Documentary for six years before assuming the role of executive director in Fall 2006. Since joining AmDoc in 1999, he has played a key role in helping to set strategic direction for the organization and implementing new initiatives, including the Diverse Voices Project, POV's co-production initiative in support of emerging filmmakers; POV's Borders, PBS' Webby Award-winning online series; and True Lives, a second-run series for independent documentaries on public television. In addition, he worked to secure pioneering partnerships with both Netflix and Docurama to expand the distribution opportunities for POV filmmakers and enhance branding for POV Previously, Simon was associate director at Teachers & Writers Collaborative, a nonprofit literary arts and education organization and publisher, where he is now a member of the board of directors. He has also served as a board member and treasurer for Elders Share the Arts and East Harlem Block Schools, and as an informal advisor and funding panel member for other organizations including the New York City Center for Arts Education, the Association for Independent Video and Filmmakers and New York State Council on the Arts. Simon attended the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Columbia University Business School's Institute for Not-for-Profit Management.
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