Kansas City Mayor Sly James established Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, as "Fred Andrews Day" to honor Andrews's 20-year commitment to the city's film community.
But as friends gathered to celebrate, Fred Andrews was not there. He died on Wednesday after a six-year struggle with cancer.
In 1996, Andrews had an idea for a film festival. And the following year, he made it happen on the campus of University of Missouri-Kansas City — in collaboration with other area universities, the Independent Filmmakers Coalition, and the Film Society of Kansas City — on a shoestring budget.
According to the proclamation, "Fred Andrews, never having been to a film festival in his life, organized the Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee's film festival that year with no budget, one screen projecting 10 short films, and through word of mouth drew 500 participants."
As Andrews told KCUR 89.3 in 2006, "Then people said, 'Maybe this is not a bad idea, are you going to do it next year?'"
The KC Filmmakers Jubilee expanded each year, adding programming such as Crosscut, focusing on women filmmakers, and CinemaJazz, combining jazz and film. In 2008, it merged with Film Fest KC to become the Kansas City Film Fest.
"Fred G. Andrews and the Jubilee Film Fest inspired me to continue a path of film and art," wrote Lisa Marie Evans on Andrews's Facebook page. "I love those people who build us up."
Albert Wiltfong also wrote: "I cannot tell you what an impact this man has had on the Kansas City film scene. He's probably one of the major reasons I'm still here in KC; the KC FilmFest (formerly KC Jubilee), as much as anything, has helped me cultivate a love for this city."
Fred Andrews was a part of Kansas City's film community for two decades —but he was not a filmmaker — at least not until recent years. In 2015, on the filmfestivals.com blog, he described his first film, a short documentary called KC Crossroads — A Tale of BBQ and The Blues, as "a sort of love letter to Kansas City" with a focus on two parts of the city's culture.
The setting was BB's Lawnside BBQ, including interviews with owner Lindsay Shannon, and Chuck Haddix, host of The Fish Fry on KCUR, as well as musicians, such as Tom "Trashmouth" Baker, Millage Gilbert, and Danielle Nicole.
For Andrews, the making of the film, as he wrote on the blog, was "a form of therapy." He was diagnosed with terminal esophageal cancer in the fall of 2009, with a prognosis of less than a year. But he beat the odds, and devoted his efforts to "living, creating, being relevant and useful while dealing with the illness."
Mayor Sly James presented the proclamation in Andrews's honor on Wednesday night before the screening of a draft of his film, KC Crossroads — A Tale of BBQ and The Blues.
Stephane Scupham, commissioner of the KC Film & Media Office, credits Andrews with providing "inspiration, structure and passion" to the city's film community.
"It seems like he was on every film-related board as an advisor or member – Cinema KC, KC Film Commission, African-American Film Society, Reel Spirit and more," Scupham wrote in an email.
"Fred was a collaborator, a community builder and whether or not you knew Fred, you have benefited from his work and love of film. He was a generous advocate and champion of the arts."
According to Scupham, at the screening of the film, Andrews' close friend and the film's co-producer, John Sjoblom, said, "Heaven must be just like Kansas City, because you [Fred] already thought Kansas City was heaven."
Update: Services for Fred Andrews are scheduled for Saturday, February 27, 7 pm to 8 pm, at Atonement Lutheran Church, 9948 Metcalf Avenue, Overland Park, Kansas, followed by a celebration at the Matt Ross Community Center, 8101 Marty Street, Overland Park, Kansas.
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter, @lauraspencer.