THE BOOTLEG FILES: “THE ZAPRUDER FILM OF THE KENNEDY ASSASSINATION”

Moviegoers finally saw the Zapruder film on the big screen with Oliver Stone’s revisionist 1991 sensation “JFK.” This was the first and, to date, only time that the Zapruder film was presented in 35mm. Stone reportedly licensed the footage from the Zapruder family and did not rely on the endless bootleg copies in circulation. In 1994, the film was included on the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, making it one of the first non-professional productions to receive such an honor.
Following a failed 1997 attempt by a federal agency called the Assassination Records Review Board to confiscate the film, the Zapruder family licensed a home video company to create a documentary on the history of the footage as the official video presentation. The resulting 45-minute “Image of an Assassination: A New Look at the Zapruder Film” was released by MPI Home Video; a DVD version was released later and is still available for purchase. (An attempt to sell videos of the film in 1991 was halted by legal action, the only time that a bootlegger actually got caught and stopped.)
In August 1999, the federal government paid the Zapruder family $16 million plus interest as compensation for its acquisition of the film; this does not include the copyright of the film, which the Zapruder family retained. In December of that year, the Zapruder family donated the copyright of the film to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. However, the film has been the subject of so much pirating that the museum does not even bother to enforce its copyright ownership.
Nearly 40 years after the Zapruder footage was shot, it is still being bootlegged. This time Net surfers can take advantage of the unauthorized duplication of the film. One web site (http://www.powow.com/reviews/zap.htm) runs the film in a continual loop from footage videotaped off the television, complete with the logo of the History Channel on the screen. Another web site (http://www.jmasland.com/z_color/) presents a frame-by-frame offering of the film.
Even at this late date, the Zapruder footage can still horrify and fascinate and fuel debate. But here in this day and age when digital video cameras are ready to capture news from every imaginable angle, it is impossible not to appreciate the irony that the most shocking crime of the 20th century was not captured by a battalion of professional camera operators and photographers, but only by a solitary lens of an 8mm camera held by a businessman who just wanted to make a home movie.

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IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.

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Posted on September 19, 2003 in Features by
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