'Original Jayhawker' premier to showcase depth of local talent

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

Sue Vicory, an award-winning Mound City filmmaker, has pushed many of the locals in her all -women production crew outside their comfort zones in making "Original Jayhawker." The results are likely good enough to take it to a nationally renowned film festival. (Submitted photos)

When “The Original Jayhawker” premiers next month on Oct. 23, it will be a triumph on many levels. It will be another highlight on the resume of area filmmaker Sue Vicory. It will be acknowledgement of the historical importance of Mound City and Linn County.

But it will also be the result of a collaboration of area women whose creativity produced a documentary worth much more than dollars and whose impact will last for decades.

Vicory, who moved with her husband Jay to a farm near Mound City in 1995, is a maverick.

In 2001, she was already established in her family’s business, W.F. Norman Corp. in Nevada, Mo. The company makes metal art for homes including tin ceilings, tin cornices, decorative shingles and a host of other metal products. Her father bought the business, started in the late 1800s, from its founder in 1978, and she was instrumental in running the business.

However, in 2002 Vicory decided to act on her longtime desire to make movies. At 48 years old, she enrolled in filmmaking school, purchased editing equipment and began looking for documentary subjects to tackle.

Hurricane Katrina hit along the Gulf Coast in August 2005 causing more than 1,800 deaths and $125 billion in damage, particularly in Louisiana and Mississippi. Vicory took her equipment and headed south to record the homelessness and devastation left in the wake of the hurricane.

Visiting about 15 cities, she spent three years recording and editing the damage both to property and to the psyches of those who were impacted. The result: a 10-minute documentary featuring the narration of Nick Lowery, a former kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Vicory said her first documentary was a valuable learning experience. Better yet, though, she learned that her filmmaking could have an impact; the documentary was used to raise more than $200,000 to help the homeless.

Her next project was "Kansas City Jazz & Blues; Past, Present & Future,” which debuted as a sneak peek in 2010 at the Gem theater at 18th and Vine streets in Kansas City, Mo., with singer Marilyn Maye headlining the red carpet event. That project took five years to complete and ended up being broadcast on Public Broadcasting Service stations around the country.

Since then, the filmmaker-producer has added several films, awards and honors to her resume. She also created Team XX, an all-female team of filmmakers that entered the 48-hour San Diego film project.

That team of 25 women produced the film "Down Stage,” a documentary that was nominated for a San Diego film award and won a 2016 Telly award.

Bringing filmmaking to Linn County

A couple of years ago, Vicory began to look at producing a film about Mound City’s history. Having at that time lived in the area a couple of decades, she had become familiar with the past events that shaped Linn County.

She brought a group of mostly local women together to informally discuss the project. As the brainstorming progressed, so did the concept of the film.

Anita Rowe of Mound City, who would eventually become one of the producers, convinced Angela Holt to attend one of the meetings. Holt, who at that time had been writing historical stories for the local newspaper for about four or five years was intrigued.

Growing up on the Spencer family farm near Prescott, Holt said she has plenty of Linn County roots on both sides of her family. And after graduating from Jayhawk-Linn High School, she earned a degree in history at Pittsburg State University, so she was an easy choice to write the script.

However, she had never written a script before. After researching how many pages it would take to do an hour-long documentary, she began to work, bring together interview transcripts from local historians and developing narration for scenes between those interviews.

She received the outline from Vicory shortly before Christmas in 2019 with instructions not to start on it until after the holiday. But she couldn’t wait. “Once I got started, I couldn’t stop working on it,” she said.

Despite her family being home over the Christmas break, the script was written and edited within a week. She worked to pack in everything that she knew about Mound City history. “Sometimes I know too much, and I try to include everything.”

Making the story fit

“I was very nervous to hand it over,” Holt said, fearing that it wouldn’t be acceptable. As it turned out Holt had written enough script for a two-and-a-half hour video.

And while that gave video editors plenty of material to work with, it had to be cut by more than half. “I’m going to the premier, and I’m going to be very nervous watching it,” Holt said, conceding that she doesn’t know what was left in and what was left on the editing room floor.

No matter how much stays or is cut, though, Holt said she would definitely do it again.

Taylor Snyder, also of Mound City, was tapped by Vicory to edit the video. Owner of

Taylor’d Weddings, a videography company specializing in producing five- to 10-minute videos of upscale weddings and presentations, Snyder had plenty of experience editing video but never a documentary.

And while the documentary is a different genre, she admits that wedding videos are a way to tell the story of the events that happened that day.

“Sue gave me a lot of guidance, because she’s done a lot of this work,” Snyder said. However, Vicory also gave her enough freedom to tap into her creativity. “It challenged me, but I love working like that.”

“At first, I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Snyder said. But she credited Vicory with being a patient mentor to her. “I learned a lot.”

A graduate of Pitt State, where she studied videography, Snyder said she believes the

documentary will be a keepsake for everyone in the area. “In school we were never taught the history of Mound City and Linn County. That’s crazy; there’s so much there.”

She said the experience has opened her here to different avenues of videography. “It’s given me more creative tools to use down the road.”

Producing the world premier

Organizing the premier for the movie requires considerable planning and coordinating skills.Throw in a performance by country music artist Blane Howard, and the event becomes a nightmare waiting to happen.

Shyla Coffel, Mound City, is the executive producer of the premier. She said there are many moving parts to organize, including scheduling and coordinating a team of volunteers as they do the physical work required to pull it off.

As in past premiers, Vicory’s nonprofit production company is using ticket sales to raise money for a children’s splash park in Mound City.

Coffel said she was particularly proud of being part of an all-women production team. She said it is very rare to work on an all-woman project, but that Vicory has worked to make that a reality.

A JLHS graduate in 2016, Coffee earned a degree in anthropology at Kansas State University. She said that by the time she graduated, she decided that she wanted to share stories.

“Stories have always been central to my goal of what I want to do with my career,” she said. “It’s been a great learning experience, and I’m getting to know people in the community that I’m not familiar with.”

Even though she is planning the premier, there is only one thing she and most of the rest of the cast and crew have not done: They haven't seen the movie. “I’m excited for the premier; only Sue and the editor have seen it.”

Vicory said that in the short term sometime after the premier, it will likely be on the Mound City website, but she also wants it to be seen at area schools. She has also applied to show the movie at the renowned Sundance Film Festival in Utah next January and is certain that it will become a part of the Kansas State Historical Society collection.

“It’s a piece that will stand long beyond our lifetime,” Vicory said.

For more information and tickets to the event, click here.

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