Filmmaker sets sights on putting Pilsen and Kapaun on big screen

Staff writer

When Father Emil Kapaun was deployed to Korea, he probably wasn’t thinking his actions might end up on the big screen, but that is exactly what one California screenwriter is hoping to accomplish.

John Stansifer has been writing scripts for 20 years. He said he never has he seen a story more perfect to be made into a blockbuster hit than that of Father Kapaun.

“It’s a compelling story to say the least,” he said, “one I know it wouldn’t be hard to convince people to get behind.”

Stansifer is modeling a Kapaun screenplay he has been in Marion County researching after “Saving Private Ryan” in hopes the script will be picked up by a major producer such as Tom Hanks or Steven Spielberg.

“My hope is it will be a big-budget film,” Stansifer said. “With some of the war scenes, it would almost have to be. It’s always been my dream to write a war film.”

If picked up, the film would be his first big-budget movie although he has written scripts for several low-budget films on historical people such as Cary Grant and William Quantrill.

Because Stansifer’s father was a history professor at the University of Kansas, he is a history buff, and believes in writing stories that are based in truth. In line with this belief, he has spent countless hours researching Kapaun’s life and the Korean War.

“I have tons of books, interviews, testimonials, and other articles of information that detail Kapaun’s movements during the war and in the camp,” he said. “I love history, always have, especially people from Kansas, because that’s where I’m from.”

Stansifer said he has gotten much of his Kapaun information from Fa-

ther John Hotze and recently visited Pilsen to explore Kapaun’s hometown.

“I was born in Lawrence, but had never been to Pilsen before,” Stansifer said. “It was a fantastic trip. I got a lot of information, photos, and other items to help me finish the script.”

Enraptured with the town and its significance to Kapaun’s life, Stansifer said he was not paying attention to his speedometer when he was pulled over by Deputy Duane McCarty.

“We talked and I explained to him what brought me to Pilsen and he told me a little bit about the area before sending me on my way,” Stansifer said.

The story of Kapaun was introduced to Stansifer as he watched Kapaun’s family receive a Congressional Medal of Honor on television.

“I did a little research into his story and became hooked,” Stansifer said. “After putting together the research, I decided it was time for me to write this one, because of the tremendous market for it with his medal and possible canonization, and the story began to take shape.”

Stansifer estimates the film will be less than two hours in length when produced.

“It is not going to be a sweeping bio,” he said. “The film won’t focus heavily on Kapaun working on the farm or getting ordained; that stuff is in there, but it is in small shots.”

The majority of the film will highlight Kapauns battle’s in Korea and his suffering in the POW camp.

“Kapaun saw more action in the war without a gun than most people saw with a gun,” Stansifer said. “It’s amazing at the horrible fighting he put himself in the middle of time and time again without taking a hit, and he probably suffered the worst in the POW camp because of his beliefs.”

Stansifer hopes to convince actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt to play the part of Kapaun.

“He has the same cleft chin that Kapaun had,” Stansifer said. “I want someone that looks boyish, who audiences can see grow into a man as the film progresses.”

He believes most of the film will be filmed in Canada because of tax incentives film crews receive there, and the locations that can be manipulated to look like Kansas and Korea.

With the screenplay nearly completed, except a few tweaks, Stansifer hopes to begin marketing the film to directors and actors as early as this spring.

“How could the story not be compelling for a film,” he asked. “My first step is to nail down how I’m going to market it, whether it’s to get an actor on board first or a director. It’s a movie that will show one person’s caring for all mankind.”

Because of his experience in the industry, Stansifer does not believe he will have any problems finding backing for the film.

“The thing is who I can get to back it,” he said. “Certain directors will change the script more than others, and I would like to keep it as based in facts as possible. Plus whoever touches the film will be banned from China and that could be a deal breaker for some.”

China has a history of banning films and the people who created them if the film does not put China in the best light. China is currently undergoing a film industry boom, Stansifer said.

“I’m not taking no for an answer,” he said. “I’m taking all my experience and putting it into this movie. It will get made.”

Stansifer knows the interest is there as well as the potential for the film to create real change for the Kapaun legacy and at his home town of Pilsen, including local efforts for the state to fund a project to pave the road to Pilsen.

“Nothing would get things moving faster than a big budget movie,” he said. “It has the chance to be a big cultural event that could possibly sway the Vatican to naming Kapaun a saint, or getting the road paved, or the visitor’s center Rosemary Neuwirth spoke about when I visited.”

Stansifer said if anyone has unpublished stories about Kapaun and would like to share them to e-mail him at john@waywardpictures.com.

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