There isn't much to say about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that hasn't already been said, but with the 60th anniversary of Kennedy's death approaching, the time is right for a straightforward retelling that conveys the gravity of the terrible day.
National Geographic's Emmy-winning series "One Day In America" examines the events surrounding Nov. 22, 1963, the date of the Kennedy assassination, from a perspective that many Americans may have never seen or heard before.
"We wanted to broaden our audience and make it more relatable to perhaps a younger audience that doesn't really know the story very well," producer Charlotte Rodrigues tells Military.com.
You won't hear conspiracy theories about the Mafia, Cuban rebels or magic bullets in NatGeo's "JFK: One Day In America," but you will see high-resolution archival footage, some newly colorized, from the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas (in what was once known as the Texas School Book Depository). The series endeavors to tell the story of Kennedy's assassination in a new way, from the viewpoint of the surviving witnesses of the day's events and with the original audio from those around the country who experienced the fallout.
"We had three brilliant archive producers that spent months going through endless hours of footage," Rodrigues says. "Eighty percent of it was provided by the Sixth Floor Museum. We colorized some of it, which was the first time the museum allowed anyone to do that."
While titled "One Day in America," the three-part series actually covers three days, including the day before and the day after the assassination, closely following the one person who was present for many of the most significant events: Jacqueline Kennedy.
The series begins with the story of the president's assassination, as told through two Secret Service agents who were protecting the first lady during the Dallas trip, Clint Hill and Paul Landis. Filmmakers also interviewed Gayle and Bill Newman, who were just a car lane away from the presidential motorcade when shots rang out in Dealey Plaza that day.
"There were not many surviving witnesses left, hence why we wanted to make this documentary now, on the 60th anniversary," says Rodrigues. "Also I think we were very aware that this was probably the last time we might hear from them."
Next, the filmmakers meticulously follow the manhunt for the presidential assassin, which includes an interview from Buell Frazier, who worked with Lee Harvey Oswald at the School Book Depository and drove the assassin to work that day. Also interviewed is John Brewer, who was working in a shoe store and noticed Oswald entering the Texas Theatre; Bill Mercer, who was reporting live from the Dallas jail where Oswald was taken; and Ruth Paine, who was with Marina Oswald, the assassin's Soviet-born wife, during the shooting.
"They were of a slightly older age, but they gave six-, maybe sometimes seven-hour interviews for us, and I felt that their memories of that day and the aftermath were just incredible," Rodrigues recalls. "It's very much about the human experience and the emotional impact that it had on the key witnesses."
The final episode in the series looks at the fatal shooting of Oswald himself, how nightclub owner Jack Ruby managed to enter the jail while armed, and why Ruby might have exacted that measure of revenge. Throughout the entire series, "JFK: One Day In America" details how the country, its citizens and the rest of the world reacted to Kennedy's assassination through archival news reports.
The franchise won an Emmy award in 2021 for its coverage of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks with "9/11: One Day In America." Rodrigues is an accomplished documentary filmmaker, having produced feature-length films and multi-part series for Netflix and the BBC.
"It's such a huge global event that everyone knows about, but being British, I didn't know that much about it and I wanted to know more," Rodrigues says. "I had no idea of the kind of ripple effects that his assassination had on not just America, but globally. It was just such a huge historic-defining moment in the world."
All episodes of "JFK: One Day In America" premiere on National Geographic on Nov. 5, 2023, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern. Viewers can stream on Disney+ and Hulu, starting Nov. 6.
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