The 11th annual AFI Docs Festival opened this week at the Newseum with the theatrical premiere of the film Letters to Jackie – a poignant and touching documentary about the outpouring of letters Jacqueline Kennedy received in the days, weeks, and months following her husband’s assassination in November of 1963. AFI Docs (the film fest formerly known as Silver Docs) runs this weekend with screenings, symposiums, and gala events held in several venues around DC – from the iconic AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring to the Newseum, two Smithsonian museums, the Goethe-Institut and the National Archives.
There was a great turn out for the fest’s opening night, and the Newseum’s Documentary Theatre was at capacity for director Bill Couturié’s presentation of his film, Letters to Jackie. Based on Ellen Fitzpatrick’s book of the same name, the film pieces together readings of some of the letters Mrs. Kennedy received (there were over 1.5 million in total) with video footage of Kennedy’s presidency, bittersweet clips from their family home movies, and harrowing news reel coverage of public reaction to his death. Couturié was on hand to introduce the film, as was AFI Director Bob Gazzale, and Fitzpatrick was also in the audience – as were several of the letters’ authors.
The letters, all read by actors (Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams, Chris Cooper, Betty White and Mark Ruffalo, to name a few) were deeply personal, and reflected a sentiment that so many Americans felt at that time – that losing JFK was like losing a family member – and they eloquently express the collective mourning of an entire nation. I was overwhelmed by the compassion, the adimiration and the grief in the words written to Mrs. Kennedy, and incredibly moved by how loved her husband had been – and how untimely his death was. The film is like opening a visual time capsule, and it intimately connected me to a time in our country’s history that I wasn’t even around for. But I suppose that’s part of the power of film, isn’t it? Letters to Jackie will have a theatrical run later this year (look for it in theatres in September/October) before making its television debut on TLC in November.
There is no shortage of fantastic films to take in over the weekend – the only downside is that it’s probably not possible to see every one of them. But you can at least try – the full schedule for AFI Docs is available here. The festival is presented by Audi and runs now through Sunday, June 23rd. Man of Steel can wait until next weekend. Seriously.
As the Punch Premiere Correspondent, Lindsey covers all things music and theater related. When not writing for Pamela’s Punch, Lindsey has a seriously sweet gig as Executive Assistant at the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (www.pcah.gov). Aside from writing and seeing as much live music as possible, you can usually find her on a running trail, in front of a painting, staring at her dog, Lincoln, or hanging out with her big sister and fellow Punch Correspondent Niki Clark. Follow her on twitter @lindseykayclark. Contact Lindsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.