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JFK board weighs the future of the Zapruder film

April 2, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Students of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and experts in photography pleaded with a government board Wednesday to keep the famous Zapruder film of the killing from returning to private hands.

In testimony before the Assassination Records Review Board _ charged by Congress with preserving records of the assassination _ they said that enhancement technology could someday be used on the film to shed new light on the events in Dallas of Nov. 22, 1963.

The film _ 26 seconds and 486 frames _ was shot on a home movie camera by Dallas clothes manufacturer Abraham Zapruder, standing atop a grassy knoll. It constitutes the most nearly complete record of the assassination.

James Lesar, who runs an archive with the country’s biggest private collection of Kennedy assassination documents, said the board should ``expropriate″ the Zapruder original for the sake of history.

Someday, he said, the government may reopen a criminal investigation into the assassination, in which case the film could be crucial evidence.

What’s more, he said, new technology could yield information on the shooting from images between the sprocket holes on the film _ 20 percent of the exposed surface.

``It is inconceivable that Congress did not intend the JFK collection to include the most important single piece of evidence related to the assassination,″ Lesar said.

Another witness, Richard Trask, author of ``Pictures of the Pain,″ a book on the photographic history of the assassination, called the Zapruder film ``the most important film ever made of a historic event.″

But board members questioned how much the government should pay the Zapruders. Lesar testified that the family may have already earned close to $1 million from selling reproduction rights over the years, ``an enormous windfall.″

Josiah Thompson, author of ``Six Seconds in Dallas,″ estimated that on the open market the film could bring $3 million to $5 million,

``I don’t think the taxpayers should pay a penny,″ he said.

The board received divided advice on whether the government could use its power of eminent domain to seize the film.

Dissenting from other witnesses, Art Simon, an English professor and author of ``Dangerous Knowledge: The JFK Assassination in Art and Film,″ said the film, rather than ``ultimate witness″ has become ``a fetishized object ... a secular relic,″ less reliable as evidence than enhanced copies.

Deteriorating but still capable of being copied, the film is held for the Zapruder family by the National Archives. It is stored at 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

Film preservation expert Moses Weitzman called it a ``wasting asset″ that could be preserved for another 25 or 30 years and should be copied digitally for ``permanent accuracy.″

The Zapruder movie was cited by the Warren Commission in its conclusion that a single gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, was Kennedy’s assassin.

But the movie has also been cited ever since by the commission’s critics; they say it proves Oswald alone could not have fired three shots as quickly as they were fired. Some conclude he had help _ or was not even the gunman.

In an interview, Lesar president of the Assassination Archives and Research Center, said his own view was that Oswald was ``maybe a patsy.″

A few days after the shooting, Zapruder sold the film to Life magazine for $150,000. Time-Life Inc. ultimately sold it for $1 to a company formed by the Zapruder family. It has been in the National Archives since 1978.

An unknown number of copies exist. Weitzman said it is crucial to keep the original because, in private hands, the images could be manipulated to make it tell a different story.

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