“Parkland is not out to pick a fight and start a dialogue about conspiracy,” director Peter Landesman said today of his film that follows the events in the hours and days following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. “It is utterly focused on the raw emotion of the weekend,” he told reporters. Landesman wrote Parkland based on Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History: The Assassination Of President John F. Kennedy. It’s also his helming debut.
The story of what happened in Dealy Plaza on November 22, 1963 has been told from many different angles, so Landesman said the idea was, “How have we not seen this story?” He was looking to explore the “disorientation, chaos and anarchy” and “what it was to survive that weekend” for people who were pulled into the extraordinary situation. “There’s not a scene in this movie that anybody’s ever seen before,” he said. “We wanted to take an audience and put them in the shoes of these people and have it wash over them like a wave.” There was applause at the press screening this morning. Reviews have so far been mixed.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination and Parkland was among the most anticipated films coming into the Venice competition. Having the world premiere in Venice and ahead of the film’s trip to Toronto was a good place to start because it gives Parkland “more opportunity to stand out,” Exclusive Media exec Alex Walton told me before the bow. Another person involved with the film also suggests that Europeans are likely to embrace it given a fascination, but perhaps less familiarity, with the Kennedys. The film has essentially sold out worldwide, including to Italy’s RAI, an early adopter which has been acquiring very few movies of late. Exclusive co-financed with The American Film Company and is releasing in the U.S. on October 4. Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman are among the producers. The sizeable ensemble includes Paul Giamatti, Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden, James Badge Dale, Billy Bob Thornton, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass, Jacki Weaver and Tom Welling. Welling is here on the Lido.
The film’s title refers to the hospital where Kennedy – and later his assassin Lee Harvey Oswald – died, but the movie isn’t entirely about Parkland and the shell-shocked staff there who treated them both. Early on, it’s set in the blood-soaked operating room where doctors attempt to keep Kennedy alive while Secret Service agents and the First Lady look on. But also followed closely are the plights of Abraham Zapruder (Giamatti), Robert Oswald (Badge Dale) and James Hosty (Livingston).
Zapruder’s Super-8 recording of the assassination went on to become perhaps the most scrutinized piece of filmed footage in American history. Parkland sheds light on the difficulty law enforcement had in getting the film developed and Zapruder’s decision to sell it to Life magazine (which paid $50,000). Landesman said the production licensed the actual Zapruder footage – often seen reflected on eyeglasses rather than full-on. The family has been “obsessively secret” and never gone on the record with anyone, Landesman said. “To us, they opened up.”
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Hosty, an FBI agent who had been tracking Oswald, ultimately destroys his file on the man who had earlier lodged an unheeded threat at the agency. Landesman spent four days with Hosty before his death in 2011. “In his last breath, he wanted to tell the truth,” he said.
Oswald’s brother Robert is shown as a sympathetic character concerned for what’s to become of his family with a stigma that will plague them “for eternity,” as he says in the film. Landesman said today that Robert Oswald woke up one day to realize “his brother (was) the devil” and that “spiritually, he represents the deepest part of the story.” A scene between the Oswald brothers after Lee Harvey’s arrest is taken directly from a police transcript. Landesman said the film is not acting as judge and rather attempts to show the humanity of each of its subjects. The film ends with the burials of both Kennedy and Oswald which each took place on November 25, 1963. Landesman said today that the title “Parkland” also came to refer to “a place where hopes and dreams go to die.”
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