Few Kansas Citians will author a love letter to their city. Even fewer will have the talent to put their feelings on screen.
And virtually no one will carry out the task with the determination and spirit of Fred Andrews.
Andrews died Wednesday afternoon. That evening, Kansas City Mayor Sly James stood before a small Westport gathering of Andrews’ closest friends, fellow film aficionados and family to read a proclamation declaring Feb. 24 to be “Fred Andrews Day.”
The night was to have been a preview of Andrews’ last work, a lovingly created documentary showcasing Kansas City’s steeply intertwined history of jazz, blues and barbecue. James narrates the short film, which will be used to promote the city.
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Terminally ill with cancer, Andrews wrote, produced and directed “Kansas City Crossroads-A Tale of BBQ and the Blues” over the last months of his life. The work that was shown in that small circle was a director’s cut, an unfinished version. It was hoped that Andrews would live long enough to finely hone the rough cut and then see it premiere at April’s Kansas City FilmFest, an event that Andrews founded a precursor to 20 years ago.
But that’s not how his life unfolded. No matter. The details are a testament to how well he lived his 62 years. Surround yourself with friends, family and a community that respects the aspects of life that you value and there will be no unfinished work.
Andrews’ best friend and the film’s co-producer, John Sjoblom, suspects that his ailing friend realized he wouldn’t see the film through to completion. But Andrews also knew that his friends would.
“If they don’t have a film festival in heaven already, someone is there now to plan one,” Sjoblom said.
If you’ve ever frittered away the day, grazing on barbecue and listening to blues with a longtime friend or making a new one, you’ll understand what Andrews loved about Kansas City, especially B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ, where much of the documentary was made.
“I was really impressed by the film,” said Dennis Andrews, one of Andrews’ three younger brothers. The younger Andrews arrived from Dallas in time to attend the gathering in his brother’s honor. “The film, it was really about him.”
Andrews was diagnosed with cancer more than six years ago. He was told that he’d probably not live more than a year. So he threw himself a wake.
Then he began to fight. He went through a series of treatments, some of which taxed him horribly. But he found ways to keep pressing forward, friends said, especially after he conceived the idea of the film about Kansas City.
M.L. Bass, also a co-producer on the film, dug through old emails from Andrews and highlighted one that he’d written after a heavy day of filming last summer. In it he thanked the crew and noted that the day had been “truly therapeutic.”
An affection with film was ingrained young in Andrews. His brothers remember him always watching movies in their youth. As an adult, Andrews found ways to connect people through his admiration of filmmaking.
He collaborated with many entities, including Avila University, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the Film Society of Greater Kansas City and others to form the Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee in 1996. Later, he’d ensure that women filmmakers were noted, adding components to highlight their work. And he continued to build relationships, working with the Mutual Musicians Foundation and the American Jazz Museum, and developing a children’s film competition and video camp.
He played a distinct role in helping grow the Kansas City FilmFest to its current status as an international festival. He left a sustained legacy, a gift to the city that he loved.
There the blues will jam, friends will gather, and Kansas City barbecue will be served.