American History: Kennedy Assassination–Parkland

There will be a lot of events and shows commemorating the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, which occurred November 22, 1963.

It’s a day that most Americans over the age of 55 (or so) remember exactly where they were when they first heard about this traumatic event, which continues to haunt American collective conscience and consciousness.

Oliver Stone on Kennedy:

Exclusive Releasing has set a September 20 release for “Parkland,” the recounting of the aftermath of the John F. Kennedy assassination, two months ahead of the 50th anniversary of the event. The film plays at the 2013 Venice and Toronto film festivals.

“Parkland” is based on Vincent Bugliosi’s book and adapted by Peter Landesman, who is making his directorial debut. The picture is named for Parkland Memorial Hospital, where Kennedy was rushed on Nov. 22, 1963, and later pronounced dead.

Peter Landesman, the screenwriter and director behind “Parkland,” which is about the events leading up to the killing of Kennedy and its aftermath, acknowledges the burden that comes with telling a factual tale accurately and compellingly.

“The assassination is the Rosetta Stone of what America came to be–live TV was born that day,” Landesman said in an interview. “We felt missionized to get it right.”

The $20 million indie was financed by Exclusive Media and the American Film Co. Landesman adapted the film, which stars Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden, Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver and Paul Giamatti, from Vincent Bugliosi’s 2007 book, “Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy,” which documents the chaos that ensued at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital after Kennedy was rushed there.

The first day of shooting was in Dealey Plaza, where Kennedy was gunned down in an open limousine while riding with first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The director started by filming scenes with Giamatti, portraying Abraham Zapruder, a man in the crowd in Dallas whose 26 seconds of home-movie footage of the event became the most closely examined celluloid in history.

“It was a spiritual experience for me,” recalls Landesman. “Paul was just masterful, and that really set the tone for the rest of the shoot.” The director did not film at Parkland Hospital, which no longer resembles the site as it was in 1963.

After the first day of production, the rest of the film was shot in Austin over 24 days, where the filmmakers found a stand-in for Parkland. “We found an abandoned psychiatric hospital that was perfect,” Landesman explained. “My cinematographer, Barry Ackroyd, was obsessive about making it look exactly the same, down to the tiles and curtains.”

Bill Paxton, who played a major role in the project’s beginnings, was 8 when he joined his older brother and father to watch Kennedy give a speech in Fort Worth outside the Hotel Texas, two hours before the assassination.

In 2007, Paxton saw photos of himself on a man’s shoulders at an event on display at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza, and subsequently purchased “Reclaiming History,” by “Helter Skelter” author Bugliosi. When Paxton met Tom Hanks at a Los Angeles Dodgers game, he suggested making a film based on Bugliosi’s book.

Hanks and his producing partner in Playtone, Gary Goetzman, agreed, and the three set up the project up as a miniseries at HBO. Paxton, at the time, was starring in Playtone’s HBO series “Big Love,” and had starred with Hanks in Universal 1995 movie “Apollo 13.”

But Bugliosi said the plan with HBO didn’t work out. In 2012, Hanks approached Landesman (who had written a script for Playtone about Watergate’s “Deep Throat”) about writing and directing “Parkland.” “I agreed to option the book after Tom Hanks told me I’d be able to vet the drafts,” Bugliosi said. His book, “Reclaiming History” makes the case that assassin Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, in contrast to conspiracy theorists such as director Oliver Stone, whose 1991 film “JFK” depicted that version of history.

Bugliosi, who’s 78, hopes the movie, which he has not yet seen, will turn public sentiment his way, but it remains to be seen whether the film can sell anywhere near the amount of tickets that Warner’s “JFK,” which grossed $205 million worldwide, did 22 years ago.

NY Times Review of the Book

“Parkland” faces serious marketing challenges, which Exclusive Media, whose releasing arm is distributing the movie domestically. Landesman says that the movie doesn’t have a point of view as to whether Oswald acted alone. “What we’re looking to do is start a different conversation about historical events,” he explains. But the director believes that “Parkland” will carry resonance with moviegoers: “Fifty years later, people are still very emotional about that day.”

Indeed, the assassination of Kennedy is like a sore of an open wound that would simply not go away.


Tom Welling as Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman
Zac Efron as Jim Carrico
Paul Giamatti as Abraham Zapruder
Jackie Earle Haley as Father Oscar Huber
Billy Bob Thornton as Forrest Sorrels
James Badge Dale as Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother
Jacki Weaver as Marguerite Oswald
Bitsie Tulloch as Marilyn Sitzman
Jeremy Strong as Lee Harvey Oswald
Marcia Gay Harden as Doris Nelson
Colin Hanks as Dr. Malcom Perry
Ron Livingston as James Hosty
David Harbour as James Gordon Shanklin
Brett Stimely as President John F. Kennedy