The filmmaker is Bill's older brother, Richard Kassebaum, and this isn't the first time he's tried to make a movie about his family.
As a film-school graduate student at the University of Southern California, Kassebaum turned his attention toward his grandfather, Alf Landon, a former Kansas governor who once ran for president against Franklin D. Roosevelt. Landon was 99 years old when the film was made. "He wasn't cooperative, and the subject nature of the film got into a lot of personal family history, and it was really stressful for everybody," Kassebaum tells the Pitch from his home in Los Angeles. The documentary went on to win a Student Academy Award in 1990, and it also helped prepare Richard Kassebaum and his family for what to expect when he turned his lens to his brother Bill's campaign.
Bill Kassebaum, Richard's junior by 14 months, was the assistant district attorney for Morris County as well as a cattle rancher and a father who was unhappy with the state of education funding in Kansas. Like his grandfather and his mother before him, Bill Kassebaum jumped into the political arena, running for the 68th District seat in the Kansas House in 2002. Kassebaum followed his brother's campaign in and around Burdick, a hamlet between Wichita and Topeka, capturing 70 hours of footage, which he whittled down to the 1-hour Bill's Run.
"I think that going in this time around, everybody was maybe a little bit more cooperative, like, 'Let's make this a positive experience,'" Richard Kassebaum says. "They'd gotten used to having me around with a camera."
The filmmaker was able to capture intimate moments that simultaneously revealed the inner workings of a campaign and the dynamic between a mother and her stubborn son. In one scene Bill and his mother, now Nancy Kassebaum Baker, sit at the kitchen table discussing one of Bill's speeches. The experienced mother offers her son some advice, but Bill, determined to be his own man, is simply not having it. The documentary is full of similarly personal scenes.
"It's hard to get scenes like that," Richard Kassebaum says. "And it's only because of the years of me being back there with a little video camera just taping family stuff and having made a documentary about my grandfather. I guess I just wore them down over the years."
Richard Kassebaum was also surprised that the residents of Burdick, who in his experience had been fairly reserved when it came to talking politics, were extremely open and cooperative.
"Certainly, me being Bill's brother broke a lot of ice right there," he confesses. As the documentarian followed his brother's campaign, he continued to film more and more interviews in which voters let down their guards. One woman, the local piano teacher, admitted that she knew both Bill Kassebaum and his opponent, Shari Weber, and their respective families, so she would have a hard time choosing between them. It speaks volumes about the political process. As Nancy Kassebaum Baker says, "People tend to vote personally."