'Letters to Jackie' opens premier docu festival

HE WAS A FRIEND OF MINE. The film takes off from the Kennedy assassination and also takes a hard look at his presidency


The film takes off from the Kennedy assassination and also takes a hard look at his presidency

WASHINGTON, USA - One of America's premier documentary film festivals got underway late Wednesday with a fresh look back on the life and times of John F. Kennedy based on moving condolence messages to his widow.

"Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy" marries archival footage with poignant words of sympathy from the 800,000 letters sent to Jacqueline Kennedy in the two months following JFK's assassination 50 years ago this November.

The film set the tone of the American Film Institute's AFI Docs festival, which over five days will unspool 53 documentaries, many of them with a distinct political flavor, in theaters in Washington and surburban Silver Spring, Maryland.

Highlights include "Herblock: The Black and The White," a biopic of the iconic Washington Post political cartoonist, and "Documented," wherein journalist Jose Antonio Vargas describes his life after outing himself as an illegal migrant.

Directed by Oscar winner Bill Couturie, "Letters to Jackie" grew out of an eponymous anthology of condolence letters and telegrams to the former first lady compiled by Ellen Fitzpatrick, published two years ago.

Reading off-camera the selected two dozen or so letters from grief-stricken Americans from all walks of life is a constellation of Hollywood stars from Betty White, 91, to Hailee Steinfeld, 16.

Watch the trailer here:

"When this tragedy struck, I felt like Peter Pan when Tinker Bell was dying," wrote one letter-writer gripped by a sense of helplessness. Another declared by way of a postscript: "I wish I could get my hands on that assassinator."

Others in the film's largely female cast of voices include Berenice Bejo, Jessica Chastain, Zooey Deschanel, Kirsten Dunst, Anne Hathaway, Melissa Leo and – conveying the words of a US army lieutenant in Berlin – Channing Tatum.

"What I find so amazing is that common people sit down and they spill their heart out," Couturie said, prior to a gala evening screening at the Newseum, a museum in downtown Washington dedicated to journalism.

"There is so much compassion, so much wisdom, it makes you so proud to be a human being, and in some cases to be an American," added the filmmaker, an Oscar winner in 1990 for his AIDS film "Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt."

"These letters had a way of trying to show there is so much more that brings us together than pulls us apart."

With lots of mood music plus home movies from the Kennedy clan's Cape Cod summer holidays, the film at times feels hagiographic. Then Martin Luther King appears to remind viewers how Kennedy sometimes wavered on civil rights.

Couturie also prudently makes a point of underscoring JFK's role in escalating the United States' fateful involvement in the Vietnam War, along with poignant references to the Cuban missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

Supporting the project was Steven Spielberg's production house Amblin Entertainment and the TLC cable channel, which plans to air in time for the commemoration of Kennedy's death anniversary. - Rappler.com

John  F. Kennedy photo by thetsmymop from Shutterstock