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.
In 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.
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.