Thursday, November 21, 2013

Kennedy and Nixon at the 2013 Virginia Film Festival

Wesley Buell Frazier (left) and Larry Sabato
Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. Television, radio, and newspapers are full of remembrances, with witnesses, historians, conspiracy theorists, and political commentators weighing in on that momentous event.

Earlier this month at the Virginia Film Festival, there was a screening of a new documentary film about JFK's legacy from the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, called The Kennedy Half-Century, which is tied to a book by the same name by UVA political scientist Larry Sabato (The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy).

There was also a screening of a new documentary film about Kennedy's 1960 presidential election campaign rival, Richard M. Nixon.

That film, called Our Nixon, features never-before-seen behind-the-scenes "home movies" from the first four years of the Nixon administration.

Gerald Baliles (left) and Brian L. Frye
The amateur movies were made with Super-8mm cameras by White House aides H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Dwight Chapin.

 All three men were later convicted of crimes connected to the Watergate Affair, which also brought down Nixon himself, when he became the first (and, so far, only) U.S. President to resign his office.

Each screening featured a three-person panel discussion.

The panel discussion that followed The Kennedy Half-Century focused on the Kennedy assassination itself, which is only briefly covered in the movie, because the film's focus is largely on how Kennedy's legacy has been treated by the presidents who followed him into the White House, from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama.

Larry Sabato moderated a discussion with two witnesses to the JFK assassination: Tina Towner Pender, who at the time of the murder was the youngest person who photographed the event; and Wesley Buell Frazier, a co-worker of Lee Harvey Oswald at the Texas School Book Depository, who drove the assassin to work the morning of November 22.

After the panel discussion, I interviewed both Pender -- who has written a memoir called Tina Towner: My Story as the Youngest Photographer at the Kennedy Assassination -- and Frazier, who was manhandled by the Dallas Police and accused of being an accomplice of Lee Harvey Oswald or co-conspirator in the assassination.

Here is video of that panel discussion, which took place in the Culbreth Theater on Saturday, November 9:

The next day, November 10, Our Nixon was shown at the Newcomb Hall Theater. The screening was followed by a panel discussion moderated by former Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles, now director and CEO of the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, and featuring Brian L. Frye, co-producer of Our Nixon and a law professor at the University of Kentucky, and Miller Center scholar Ken Hughes.

After the panel, I spoke to Frye and asked him about how he found the long-lost Super-8mm footage that makes up the bulk of his film, how it was preserved, and what his next film projects are.

Here is the video of the Our Nixon panel with Baliles, Frye, and Hughes:

Our Nixon has been aired by CNN and shown at several film festivals (in addition to the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville) and it will also be available on DVD in January 2014.

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