Alexandra Zapruder Interview by John Wisniewski

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``Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film``

Alexandra Zapruder, granddaughter of the videographer and a founder of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Abraham Zapruder, has written a book called Twenty Six Seconds: A Personal History Of The Zapruder Film, about the footage her grandfather shot they day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Zapruder didn't know when he began filming Kennedy's motorcade on November 22, 1963 that his home movie would change not only his family's life but American culture and history, as well. With the help of personal family records, previously sealed archival sources, and interviews, she traces the film's complex journey through history, considering its impact on her family and the public realms of the media, courts, Federal government, and the arts community. Part biography, part family history, and part historical narrative, Zapruder shows how 26 seconds of film changed a family and raised some of the most important social, cultural, and moral questions of our time.

JW: Alexandra, why is the Zapruder film probably the most important, or one of the most important films in our history?

Alexandra Zapruder: I think the film is important because it captures a turning point in American history and a traumatic moment in American life. It’s also important because it was the first thing of its kind – a home movie that became the nation’s memory of a key moment and a single record that came to stand in for many other perspectives and points of view about what happened. It also gained importance because Oswald was killed days after JFK so in the absence of his testimony, the film took on added importance as a sort of “witness” to the assassination itself. And finally, the fact that there was not a collective national consensus on what occurred on Dealey Plaza means that the film remains a piece of evidence that is still mined and examined to this day.

JW: Could you tell us something about the museum devoted to the history of the film?

Alexandra Zapruder: I think you are referring to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, Texas which is not devoted to the history of the film but rather to the assassination of JFK. The film is used in the museum to help tell the story of what happened to JFK and the implications of his assassination on America and the wider world. The museum also holds the copyright to the Zapruder film so they are the ones who decide who uses it, in what contexts, and for how much money.

JW: What was your family’s reaction to shooting this film on Super 8. Not having any idea of how important it would become?

Alexandra Zapruder: The film was actually not shot on Super 8. It was shot on Double 8 mm film, which was a precursor film to Super 8. I think my grandfather’s reaction was one of horror, shock, and deep sadness. He always regretted his association with JFK’s murder and was sorry that he was the one who filmed it. Although I don’t think anyone in the family realized how important the film would eventually become – they were far too saddened by the death of JFK to think about the film at first – I believe we eventually saw it as an important responsibility not only to the Kennedy family but to the nation itself.

JW: How do you feel about the many millions of phones, and recorders that record history, everyday for us?

Alexandra Zapruder: This is the way that history evolved. I don’t think there would have been any way to predict it but I do sometimes think that everyone takes versions of the Zapruder film all the time now. We are often catching surprising, unexpected, and sometimes even historically important moments on film. That has more to do with changes in technology than anything else. I suppose it’s sometimes a good thing in that information caught in this way can be useful, but it’s also unnerving to think that we are so often being caught on film even when we don’t know it. I think with the development of this technology, it became a lot harder to maintain any sense of privacy at all.

JW: Do you keep in touch with the Kennedy family, Alexandra?

Alexandra Zapruder: No, our family has never been in touch with the Kennedy family. We understand that our grandfather’s film recorded a tragic moment for their family and that the film could only be a source of additional pain for them. We’ve always tried to treat the film with the utmost dignity and respect and to avoid adding to their suffering if possible.

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