VIDEO: Small Kansas towns struggle

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The Center for Kansas Studies at Washburn University is showed the documentary “Florence, Kansas” as part of their Kansas Day Celebration on Friday, Jan. 27th in Henderson Learning Center.

Created by filmmakers Steve Lerner and Frank Barthell, funding was made possible through the Kansas Humanities Council’s Short Film Grant.

“The Kansas Humanities Council funded this film through short-films, because they are using the film to get people talking about what is going on in small towns,” said Tom Averill, interim chair of the department of English and overseer of the project. “In lots of documentaries, you have someone who’s a narrator, and instead, the filmmakers decided to let Florence tell its own story.”

Averill said that this is what sets the film apart from others. The film includes a chronicling of the small town of Florence and its decline. However, it also encompasses the general themes of what has begun happening to most small towns over the last several decades.  

Averill said that the film covers the decline of the small town due to changing demographics, economy, consolidation of schools, the 1951 flood resulting in millions of dollars worth of damage and a younger generation moving on.

Averill, who also wrote an article on the film featured in the Kansas Government Journal, said that the film will use images and footage of parades, community events, home movies and footage of the devastating 1951 flood.

Tom Schmiedeler, professor of geography and director of the event, has seen his own small hometown of Tipton, Kan., decrease in size over the last several decades. He hopes this film will address relevant issues for these shrinking towns, such as, “How do they survive? What do they do?”

Schmiedeler said this is not the first time the Center for Kansas Studies has addressed this issue at their Kansas Day Celebration. Richard Wood, author of  “Survival of Rural America,” also discussed this topic when he presented at the celebration in 2009.

The Kansas Day Celebration always has a presenter, and the long list includes several other short films and even two former Kansas Governors. One of them, John Carlin, spoke last year.

Schmiedeler said that any native Kansan should be interested in this film. Averill added that any small town Kansans would also be interested in this film.

“When you scratch the surface of most Kansans, you find there is a little small town in them,” said Averill. “The film is a collage of primary materials and is like having an experience yourself, instead of being told.”

The filmmakers were present, and there was an opportunity for students and faculty to discuss the film with them.