The 16th annual Gordon Parks Celebration in Fort Scott, Kan., is set to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the film The Learning Tree during a three-day event that kicks off Thurs., Oct. 3, with a full weekend of workshops, tours of Parks’ Fort Scott, viewings of “The Learning Tree,” jazz receptions, picnics in the park, banquets and even a reunion of “Learning Tree” actors, even those who had bit parts.
Gordon Parks wrote about his hometown of Fort Scott in his autobiographical novel and subsequent film “The Learning Tree” – which was one of the first 25 films selected for placement on the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1989.
Though the film is based in a fictional town in Kansas, it was formed from and filmed right in Fort Scott.
During the filming, many Fort Scott residents were given roles as extras. So for the 50th Anniversary, a special effort is being made to bring the extras, along with three stars of the film together for a special remembrance. Several months ago, Kirk Sharp, executive director for the Gordon Parks Museum, put out a call for extras to return for this special anniversary.
“So many folks have told us time and time again that they were in the movie ‘The Learning Tree’ as an extra or a spectator, so we’d like to have that wonderful time to document that.”
Several credited actors from the movie, Karole Graham, Stephen Perry, and S. Pearl Sharp, will attend this year’s celebration and receive the 2019 “Gordon Parks Choice of Weapons Award.” The awards, which celebrate their career and character, will be presented at a Saturday evening closing banquet.
After Parks’ huge success with this film – making him the first African-American to direct a major Hollywood production – he went on to direct other films like “Shaft” in 1971, and authored more than a dozen books. He also wrote several original musical compositions, film scores, and a ballet. As a photojournalist for Life Magazine, he chronicled the Civil Rights movement for two decades, which established his reputation for groundbreaking work.
The Gordon Parks Celebration is for the whole family, with plenty of free events each day. Several events require pre-registration by Wed., Oct. 2, but otherwise each day you will have the opportunity to register at the museum for the day’s events.
Attendees will have several chances throughout the event to catch a screening of “The Learning Tree” free of charge. There will also be guided tours of Fort Scott locations filmed in the movie.
Several noted artists will be in town, including Kansas City’s Jazz Ambassador Queen Bey. She will present a jazz master class during the day and will be the evening entertainment at “A Night of Jazz” reception on Friday evening.
Visitors will also go behind the scenes of “The Learning Tree,” and sit in on a panel discussion with actors from the film and Parks’ son, David Parks.