JFK Documentary: Instant Classic

How special it was on Sunday to be privy to a preview of “JFK in Tampa: The 50th Anniversary.”  I can’t wait for the finished product this fall.

The historic, Nov. 18, 1963, presidential visit by John F. Kennedy–the first such by a sitting president to Tampa–is chronicled and produced by former TV reporter Lynn Marvin Dingfelder in collaboration with WUSF-TV. The one-hour (WUSF-TV) documentary, a time-capsule mix of rare video, evocative images and special memories, will debut Nov. 14th at Tampa Theatre.

I’ve often felt that a hallmark of a good movie is that which induces laughter, smiles and tears. This documentary will.

*The archive footage of President Kennedy speaking and smiling is awash in sentiment. It’s nostalgia for that Camelot moment in time plus inevitable speculation about what might have been–had Dallas never happened.

*Viewing Tampa’s political coming-out party as a national player is prideful. It also prompts recollection and reflection. Context comes cascading back. Richard Nixon had carried Florida by a slim margin (51 per cent) in 1960. The following year was the Bay of Pigs debacle. The Sunshine State was the epicenter of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Florida was no generic Southern state. Electorally, it now mattered and so did no-longer-sleepy Tampa.

*Hearing the words of yesteryear’s witnesses truly personalizes it.  “This isn’t my documentary,” underscores Dingfelder. “This is everybody’s.”

The late Sam Gibbons, JFK’s constant companion that special day, is more than archived. Dingfelder interviewed him before he passed away last year. Former Mayor Dick Greco was there–and is here. Ditto for former WFLA anchorman Arch Deal, restaurateur Richard Gonzmart and former Sheriff Malcolm Beard. Pam Iorio and Bob Buckhorn are included for additional mayoral perspective.

African-American activist and entrepreneur Jetie B. Wilds Jr. has a most cogent observation. While Tampa was part of the segregated South, “it was integrated that day,” says Wilds.

Former State Sen. Helen Gordon Davis doesn’t disappoint–and speaks directly to Kennedy’s charismatic, visceral appeal. “I swear when he passed by our eyes locked. … I loved him.”

A newsreel voice-over explains the notable and noticeable security presence, including the Secret Service, employed on Kennedy’s 28-mile motorcade. It drips with foreboding irony. As if it were just another crowd-control day at the presidential-security office. “It was no different in Tampa. It will be no different at his next stop.”

If only.

In addition to the documentary, which will be available later through Florida Public Television stations and online, there will be an accompanying DVD, a coffee-table book and an exhibit at the Tampa Bay History Center from Nov. 1 to Dec. 1 of this year. Ultimately, the documentary is expected to be archived in libraries and museums, including the JFK Presidential Library and Museum.

Yes, sponsors are needed, and the key contact is WUSF Public Media’s Scott Nolan (974-8677, [email protected]). For content offers–and, yes, Lynn Marvin Dingfelder is still accepting photos and home-movie footage of the JFK visit–go to [email protected]

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