The Kansas budget crisis as film material?
Only a stellar filmmaker could make it happen, and Carson Tappan has pulled it off. The fact that he’s a high school sophomore makes it all the more remarkable.
Tappan’s documentary, “Where the Buffaloed Roam,” aired Tuesday night at a theater in Johnson County. It had been moved to a larger venue due to popular demand.
Tappan, who attends Louisburg High School, said by way of a short intro that he became intrigued by his state’s deep income tax cuts and subsequent budget woes because he kept hearing and reading about them. He thanked a lot of people, including his gifted education teacher, his speech and debate teacher, and his parents, who he said do not share his political views.
Tappan, who has been making films since age 11, narrates the documentary, and appears in it frequently, always dressed in a buttoned up jacket and tie. He says the only person who can fully explain the Kansas budget crisis is Gov. Sam Brownback, and is filmed in a car headed to Topeka for an appointment with the governor.
Along the way, he stops to talk to people like Duane Goossen, the former Kansas budget director, University of Kansas tax law professor Martin Dickinson, and Kansas Policy Institute Executive Director Dave Trabert. Trabert is the only person interviewed on camera who defends the tax cuts.
The funniest interview is with Will Averill, a Lawrence resident who set up an Indiegogo campaign to crowd fund a solution to the Kansas budget shortfall. He set out to raise $715 million but ended up with just $14.
Another good interview is with Steven Borel, an Olathe lawyer who works out of his home. Borel is one of many Kansans who, because of the way his business is structured, gets a pass from paying state income taxes. He told Tappan he saves somewhere from $7,000 to $10,000 a year by not paying state taxes.
“Even though I don’t have any employees and I’m never going to have any employees,” he said, referring to the premise of the Brownback income tax cuts, which is supposed to be job creation.
Tappan never gets his interview with the governor, which is a shame, because Tappan is a good interviewer — smart, well-prepared and willing to ask the tough questions.
The crowd in the theater consisted of almost everyone who appears in the documentary, along with Tappan’s family, friends and teachers, and members of Kansas Families for Education, an advocacy group which sponsored the presentation.
The documentary is professionally made, informative and witty. If you’ve followed the events in Kansas closely, you won’t learn a lot that’s new, but you’ll come away with a couple of takeaways.
One is that there really is no easy way to rebuild what Brownback and the Legislature have broken. The other is that Tappan and his friends who helped him with the documentary are a really great tribute to the Kansas public schools, and the tax cut advocates are crazy to wreck a good thing.
To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bshelly.