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Kansas professor’s film wins three awards

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – A film by a University of Kansas faculty member won three top awards at the 34th annual American Indian Film Festival held Nov. 14 in San Francisco.

Kevin Willmott, KU associate professor of film and media studies, won best director for his latest film, “The Only Good Indian.” The film also received awards recognizing the performances of Wes Studi, best actor, and Winter Fox Frank, best supporting actor.

The awards were presented at the American Indian Motion Picture Awards Show, the concluding event for the nine-day festival presented by the American Indian Film Institute. The American Indian Motion Picture Awards Show recognizes excellence in American Indian cinematic achievement.

Willmott’s film was among more than 80 new feature films, public service films, music videos and documentaries from American Indian and Canadian First Nation communities premiered at the festival.

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Based on a script written by KU alumnus Thomas L. Carmody, “The Only Good Indian” was inspired by the early history of Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence. Haskell originated in 1884 as a federal industrial training school for children from American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. It was one of many government schools dedicated to eradicating Native American cultures.

Set in the early 1900s, the film follows a Kickapoo child forcibly taken from his family and placed in a government boarding school. As a teen, the captive youth escapes to try to return to his home, only to be tracked by a bounty hunter. Both the hunted teen and his bounty hunter, who is Cherokee, are pursued by an Indian fighter sheriff.

Although Willmott recruited a few Hollywood actors – including Studi, a Cherokee originally from Oklahoma, who played the bounty hunter – most of the cast and crew are from KU, Haskell and the Kickapoo Indian Reservation near Horton. The best supporting actor, Frank, is a student at Dartmouth College whose mother attended Haskell. Others in the cast and crew were recruited from across the state where scenes were filmed, including Cottonwood Falls, Easton, Larned, Topeka and Wichita.