PBS Distribution has announced the 2-disc Blu-ray release of American Experience: JFK, a new documentary portrait of President John F. Kennedy, his accomplishments and his unfulfilled promise. Produced and directed by Susan Bellows, JFK features interviews with Kennedy family members and historians including Robert Dallek, Robert Caro, and Evan Thomas. The documentary arrives on Blu-ray on November 19th.
Official Synopsis: JFK provides a fresh look at an enigmatic man who remains one of the nation's most beloved and mourned leaders. Beginning with Kennedy's childhood years as the privileged but sickly second son of one of the wealthiest men in America, the film explores his early political career as a lackluster congressman, his successful run for the U.S. Senate, and the game-changing presidential campaign that made him the youngest elected president in U.S. history. With the benefit of recently opened archives, the film recounts his struggles with life-threatening illnesses and his efforts to keep them hidden from the public.
It also offers new perspectives on his complicated private life, including his relationship with his wife, his close connection to his younger brother, Robert, and his complex bond with his powerful father. It also reevaluates Kennedy's strengths and weaknesses in the Oval Office as he navigated some of the most explosive events of the 20th century: the disastrous failure at the Bay of Pigs, the urgent demands of an increasingly impatient civil rights movement, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the escalating conflict in Southeast Asia.
"John F. Kennedy is an iconic figure in American politics, known for his soaring rhetoric and the youthful energy and glamour he brought to the presidency," says filmmaker Susan Bellows. "However, he wasn't a born politician, and he struggled with debilitating health challenges throughout his life. Our film looks at his journey to the Oval Office, the ambition that propelled him there, and how he navigated one of the most pivotal eras in American history."
Tech specs and extras have yet to be detailed. Documentary segments include:
JFK: Part One
Part One follows JFK's rise to power from his birth to his election as president in 1960, the youngest man ever to be elected to the office. With illuminating interviews from family members, including sister Jean Kennedy Smith, niece Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, historian Robert Dallek and author Robert Caro, this episode offers new insight into Kennedy's early years, from his transformation from a sickly youth to Washington's most eligible bachelor to the nation's president.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy is one of nine children born to one of the wealthiest men in America. Unlike his robust siblings, he is haunted by a mysterious illness. Finally diagnosed with Addison's disease, he will spend his life in and out of hospitals and in constant pain.
Jack Kennedy first bursts onto the national stage as a war hero through his courageous rescue of his PT-109 crewmen. When his older brother, Joe Jr., is killed in the line of duty in 1944, the family's political hopes shift to Jack. Despite the odds, he wins his Grandfather Fitzgerald's old Massachusetts congressional seat. From that point on, Kennedy rises in power and influence, unseating Senator Henry Cabot Lodge in a surprising victory and then put forward as a possible vice presidential candidate in 1956.
His campaign for president is the first to be waged on television, a distinct advantage for the telegenic candidate. Despite his lack of legislative achievements and his Catholicism – which many Americans see as a negative – Kennedy wins the election on the promise that he will stand up to the Soviets and protect American preeminence in the world.
JFK: Part Two
Part Two follows Kennedy into the White House, through his assassination and the unfulfilled promise of his presidency. Offering fresh assessments of the successes and failures of his tenure, this episode features frank appraisals by administration officials, including John Seigenthaler, Thomas Hughes and Harris Wofford, civil rights leaders Andrew Young and Julian Bond, and journalists Evan Thomas and Richard Reeves.
In 1961, the most challenging issue facing the new administration is the spread of communism and continuing Cold War fears. Only a few months into his first term, Kennedy launches the Bay of Pigs invasion, an unmitigated disaster that teaches him a powerful lesson. Nikita Khrushchev proves a stubborn foe, and Kennedy takes a stand against the spread of communism in a country few Americans have ever heard of: Vietnam. Kennedy faces Khrushchev again in the Cuban Missile Crisis, ignited when Soviet warheads are spotted in Cuba. Negotiating his way out of the crisis proves to be one of Kennedy's finest hours, and he spends the rest of his term working for nuclear disarmament.
Health issues continue to plague the president and pain is a constant companion. Glamorous first lady Jackie captivates the world on her travels, while rumors of the president's womanizing continue in Washington. On the domestic front, civil rights prove tricky for the administration, as they rely heavily on the support of Southern Democrats. Forced to intervene when Freedom Riders take direct action in Southern states, the administration sends in federal marshals to ensure their safety. But it is only later, when Governor George Wallace of Alabama refuses to allow African-American students in the state university, that Kennedy brings the issue to the nation, calling for the passage of a civil rights act.
Looking ahead to the next election, Kennedy knows he must win Texas to have a second term. So he takes a fateful trip to Dallas, with Jackie accompanying him on her first domestic trip. It is there that an assassin's bullet ends his life, forever enshrining him in myth.
For 25 years, American Experience has been television's most-watched history series. It has been hailed as "peerless" (Wall Street Journal), "the most consistently enriching program on television" (Chicago Tribune), and "a beacon of intelligence and purpose" (Houston Chronicle). On air and online, the series brings to life the incredible characters and epic stories that have shaped America's past and present. Acclaimed by viewers and critics alike, American Experience documentaries have been honored with every major broadcast award, including 30 Emmy Awards, four duPont-Columbia Awards, and 16 George Foster Peabody Awards, one most recently for three films representing the series' body of work: Freedom Riders, Triangle Fire, and Stonewall Uprising.