Z-Film In Public Domain

The Zapruder film of the JFK assassination has been declared a permanent possession of the people of the United States by the Assassination Records Review Board.

That action in late April takes the ultimate ownership of the film from the heirs of Abraham Zapruder, the Dallas dressmaker who chanced to make it on November 22, 1963. The Review Board says it intends to direct that the film become U.S. property on August 1, 1998.

"By taking this action, the Review Board is attempting to insure the preservation of the original Zapruder film, guarantee its availability to the American people, and give the U.S. Congress a role in resolving the final disposition of the film," said Judge John R. Tunheim, Chairman of the Review Board and U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Minnesota. The Board's action leaves it up to Congress, and possibly the courts, to determine how much the Zapruder family will be compensated for the film.

An attorney for the family said in an interview that the Zapruders already have offered to accept "very, very, very substantially less" than the appraised value of the 26-second film. He declined to say what value appraisers have put on the film, as did the board.

James Lesar, president of the Assassination Archives and Research Center, a private collection of Kennedy assassination documents, said it is important that the government retain possession of the original.

"This is paramount evidence," he said, adding that it would be peculiar for the government to hold millions of other pieces of evidence but not the film.

The Zapruder film was cited by the Warren Commission in its conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed Kennedy.

But the film has also been cited by the commission's critics, who said it proves that Oswald alone could not have fired three shots as quickly as the Warren Commision claimed. It is widely believed that Oswald either had help, or was not even involved.

Some critics call the authenticity of the Zapruder film into question. That issue was the subject of an expert panel at a researcher's symposium in Dallas last year. The question of the Z-film's authenticity was not, however, considered by the Review Board.

In its unanimously approved Statement of Policy and Intent, the Review Board said:

  • The Zapruder film is recognized as an assassination record within the meaning of the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992;

  • The Review Board intends to work with Congress to exercise its authority under the JFK Act to direct that the film be transferred to the JFK Assassination Records Collection on August 1, 1998;

  • The Review Board will do all in its power to ensure that the best available copy of the Zapruder film will become available to the public at the lowest reasonable price; and

  • The Review Board will continue to work cooperatively with LMH Company to (a) make the best possible copy of the Zapruder film to be placed in NARA for scholarly and research uses, (b) to establish a base reference for the film through digitization, and (c) to conduct all appropriate tests to evaluate authenticity and to elicit historical and evidentiary evidence.

  • Lesar said that in his view, the board's action immediately opened the way for Freedom of Information Act requests for copies. He said his organization may file such a request. "It is now a government record," he said.

    The original piece of film has been in the custody of the National Archives under an agreement with the Zapruder family.

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    See the related story here: a transcipt of the Review Board's April 2 meeting that ultimately determined the fate of the Zapruder film.

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