22 November 2009

Stories That Must Be Heard

Today is the 46th anniversary of the JFK assassination.

Two of my films and a number of my promotional films have been made for and with the Mary Ferrell Foundation. The films, The Fourteen Minute Gap and Withheld In Full: Morley V. CIA are, appropriately enough, about the JFK assassination.  Hence my reason for writing about this particular subject on this particular day.

The Kennedy assassination has been an endless trove of source material for a cornucopia of films (documentary and narrative), television specials, online shorts, books, more books, websites and opinions, all geared towards one ultimate goal: the acceptance of that representative product as "Truth."

What happened 46 years ago is more than an unsolved mystery - it is a subject matter not for the weak of heart, nor the weak of mind.  It is maddeningly frustrating material; my many years with the Foundation, with my mind planted firmly in this world of political science and intrigue have opened my eyes to a great many untruths about our history - some frightening, some horrific, and many of which infuriate me to no end.

As much of my filmmaking output since the start of my career has been in this milieu of intrigue, deception, documents, and redactions, I am taking away from this experience the most invaluable lesson any documentary filmmaker (or filmmaker in general, or storyteller) can learn:

There are stories that must be heard and the characters in these stories are real, breathing people - be they presidents put on a pedestal or vilified, musicians playing their hearts out for 10 hours straight or journalists up against incredible odds.  They are the heart and soul of the story - and an agenda has no place in it.

I did not choose to make documentaries on the Kennedy assassination because I feel a need to figure out who did it, or to prove my beliefs about what happened.  I leave that to those whose passion it is to seek answers that are hidden behind blacked-out lines, behind facades of moral and political authority and smokescreens of officialdom.

I chose the subject matter because of one, simple, indelible fact: it was a good story, and it was a story I thought should be heard.  I did not tell grandiose stories that posed questions about conspiracy or not - I told stories grounded in reality about real people in extraordinarily difficult situations - be they a vice president who became president or a game designer who wanted to have his story heard - and was ignored.

For my time working in that milieu, I'm proud of the work I accomplished.  I'm proud that these films were engaging little nuggets that people watched because they told a fascinating story.  And I'm proud to walk away from tackling this subject matter with little stories told as well as I could.

All good things must come to an end.  And so too must my time making these documentaries.

But - I'll leave you with a tease.  The political thriller I'm writing is in that world, and a year ago today, I struck a deal to adapt the source material.  It tells a story I find completely fascinating, and one that I hope you will find fascinating as well - one that should be heard, and one filled with twists and turns that I can't wait to unleash - some day.


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