DVD: JFK: A President Betrayed

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In 2010, when producer Darin Nellis and I began research for JFK: A President Betrayed, we wanted to investigate Kennedy’s record in foreign policy to see how far he deviated from the Cold War script, which insisted that the Communists were our mortal enemies, and the only way to deal with them was through the threat of military force.

Specifically, we were curious to what degree President Kennedy, in his efforts for peace abroad, provoked adversaries in the United States to view him as a threat to national security. Did President Kennedy possess the forethought to understand the possible dangers?

We were eager to uncover something new in the record. We soon found out that many important details had been hiding in plain sight for decades.

Through the work of authors like John Kenneth Galbraith, Norman Cousins, Gareth Porter and Peter Kornbluh, we discovered lost episodes of Kennedy’s presidency – details that demonstrated JFK’s commitment to peace was much greater than people realized. For instance, who knew Kennedy was interested in pursuing a negotiated settlement in Vietnam? Who knew JFK was willing to speak with Fidel Castro? In these moments and others, the President displayed a remarkable ability to empathize with his enemies; to put himself in their shoes. The most famous example was the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Kennedy, together with Nikita Khrushchev, circumvented a dangerous nuclear confrontation.

Thanks to the firsthand recollections of people like Dan Fenn, Thomas Hughes and William Vanden Heuvel, we were able to uncover a substantive portrait of President Kennedy that helps explain his actions, why he had so many enemies, and why his assassination in Dallas was so impactful. We believe audiences will appreciate these new details and likely come to see President Kennedy differently after watching the film, just as we did when we were making it.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the peace activist and Buddhist philosopher Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, whose writings on President Kennedy inspired our efforts to make this film, and to share it particularly with young adults who will shoulder the future.

Cory Taylor, Director
"JFK: A President Betrayed"

New York Times review 1/22/2013:

Early in his presidency, John F. Kennedy feared that in the face of a conflict he might not be in full control of the warmongering operatives in his government. The nuclear threat was palpable, and, as Cory Taylor explains in his well-researched documentary “JFK: A President Betrayed,” Kennedy had learned his lesson with the Bay of Pigs invasion. (According to the film, narrated by Morgan Freeman, he blamed himself for not asking the C.I.A. the right questions.)

The military leadership and some senior advisers thought it would make the United States look weak to reach out to our enemies. Kennedy, however, said, “never fear to negotiate.” This information is well known. What Mr. Taylor’s documentary skillfully examines is how Kennedy subverted these leaders, using emissaries to approach Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro, and how he tried to change a staid approach to foreign policy.

Historical footage of Kennedy’s speeches and other events are interspersed with interviews with historians and writers (Evan Thomas, Peter Kornbluh, Gareth Porter); former Kennedy aides (Dan Fenn and Tazewell T. Shepard Jr., who has since died); Khrushchev’s son Sergei; and Kennedy and Khrushchev’s interpreters from their Vienna summit. A brief section reviews Kennedy’s much-debated policy on Vietnam. Here we see paperwork showing that, at the time of his death, he wanted the United States advisers out.

While the film’s subtitle screams conspiracy, the documentary only mildly suggests that the assassination of the president was an inside job. Fifty years later, this is one of many additions to the Kennedy catalog. Although it’s more suited for the small screen, it is a worthy entry nonetheless.
– Nicole Herrington

Spiraljournal review:

I don’t watch a ton of television but I do think flopping onto the couch, clicking on the tube and mindlessly flipping through channels every now and again can be a very healthy activity for the human psyche. I did exactly that last night, discovering an incredibly intriguing documentary called JFK: A President Betrayed. Born in 1967, four years after Kennedy’s assassination, I, like you, have always been well aware of Kennedy’s greatness as a leader, but have never been clear on the exact reasons why. What made the patterns of his presidency so exceptional, especially to us, today,at a time when politicians and public service have lost much of their appeal amongst people?

The film makes the point that Kennedy was willing to mitigate conflict and avoid taking up arms against aggressors at almost all cost, never giving up on efforts to resolve a problem before going to war. While ready to preserve American interests, he constantly strove for peace. Unaccepting of Fidel Castro’s alliance with Russia, he still held a disposition to dialogue with the Cuban dictator and other world leaders on an idealogical divide, pointing out that Yugoslavia’s Tito was a communist, and that communism per se was not the problem, that the world was rapidly evolving, making tolerance paramount to preserving mankind’s future. All this while surrounded by pressures from advisers who were military luminaries from the second World War like General Curtis Lemay, leader of the bombing squads over Nazi Germany.

Kennedy constantly stood his ground and upheld his agenda, doing what he knew to be right, even in the face of enormous political risk. One nice clip exhibited the young Senator from Massachusetts making the point that the decisions of big government must be guided by the conscience of the people, vis-a-vis lack of support for the conflict in Vietnam, stating his desire for America to pull out before the clash escalated into full scale war. Along with rare interviews with Cold War interpreters Alexander Akalovsky (Kennedy’s) and Viktor Sukhodrev (Nikita Khrushchev’s), the documentary highlights many of Kennedy’s outstanding orations. “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate” is a line now recalled, along with, “Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. No matter of human destiny is beyond human beings.” The filmmakers were inspired by writings on Kennedy by Japanese Buddhist Philosopher Daisaku Ikeda, an excellent subject for an upcoming post.

Above all, JFK: A President Betrayed drives home the point that John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s presidency exuded the principle that one individual can have a profound effect on the whole. His leadership empowers us to recognize the value of the single human being, offering up one of the finest historical examples of guidance by a man marked by true individuality. The story proves the power of the individual, the individual being the engine of progress. Check it out.

Los Angeles Times review:

On the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination, "JFK: A President Betrayed" doesn't revisit what happened on that fateful day in Dallas. Instead, Cory Taylor's documentary examines the 35th president's failures and successes on the Cold War front with a wistfulness for what might have been had Lee Harvey Oswald (whose name isn't even mentioned) never taken aim.

The film, narrated by Morgan Freeman, weaves a suspenseful narrative from eyewitnesses, including the English and Russian translators present at JFK's Vienna summit with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev; academic experts; and the children of key players, revealing an empathetic, humanist side to the president's navigation of the Communist threat. Bullied and subverted by military advisors he inherited from the Eisenhower administration, Kennedy rejected a plan for a nuclear first strike, and at the time of his death, he'd decided to pull troops out of Vietnam and was pursuing a dialogue with Fidel Castro.

ON LOCATION: Where the cameras roll

As revelatory as some of these details are, illustrated by a plethora of archival photographs and footage as well as visits to the locations where pivotal discussions and speeches took place, the information comes fast from talking heads who, let's face it, can get a bit dry.
Lose focus, and you risk missing the significance of what's being conveyed.

– Annlee Ellingson 11/21/2013