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‘Bobby Kennedy for President:’ Realizing the Relevance

"My goal is to help you understand as much as possible what this remarkable person is experiencing or doing, and let you judge for yourself."

Dawn Porter’s four-part documentary series for Netflix, Bobby Kennedy for President, utilizes rare and never-before-seen archival footage—much of it digitized for the first time—along with new interviews with those that worked closely with Robert F. Kennedy and knew him well.

“Bobby Kennedy remains one of the most important and influential figures in American political history,” Porter explains, “and we all felt that there was no better time to study his life and legacy. 

“We take care to closely examine his transformation from law-and-order leader to a trailblazer with a progressive focus on civil rights and social justice in a tumultuous time for the country.”

Including new interviews with RFK confidantes and staffers—Harry Belafonte, Rep. John Lewis, Rep. Neil Gallagher, Dolores Huerta, Ambassador William Vanden Heuvel, Paul Schrade, Franklin A. Thomas, William Arnone, Marian Wright Edelman and Peter Edelman—Porter explores what America gained and what it lost in the life, vision, politics, and legacy of Bobby Kennedy.

“I gravitate to making films that shed a light on truth and justice,” Porter says, “and RFK’s story inspires me personally, and has helped me grow as a filmmaker and a citizen.”

Porter, explains Ken Jacobson, “brings fresh perspective in several key ways: by taking advantage of a trove of archival material that had lain dormant for decades (including little-seen footage and outtakes from DA Pennebaker); by examining Kennedy from the perspective of key civil rights leaders and others who knew and worked side by side with him, rather than family members or scholars; and, perhaps, most interestingly, by taking a close look at the trial of Sirhan Sirhan and the questionable legal representation that he received.”

“I wanted first-hand witnesses, but I wanted those witnesses to amplify and deepen your experience of the footage you were seeing, so that the footage comes first,” Porter tells Jacobson. “When I do a vérité film, my goal is to help you understand as much as possible what this remarkable person is experiencing or doing, and let you judge for yourself.

“I don’t like to be so heavy-handed that you know what you’re supposed to think. And I was hoping that by being able to experience so much archive, you could begin to really feel like you know this person. By the end of it, it’s like he’s alive. You are experiencing the sadness of his death because you saw how effective he was in life.” To read the full interview, click here.

“The documentary team poured over 2,000 reels of film and digitized 240 hours of archive footage from news stations and personal collections to create the film,” reports Amanda Holpuch

“You are so afraid you are going to miss something,” Porter tells Holpuch. “And you are going to miss things. There is no way to completely cover this rich period of history but we wanted to give it our best shot.” To read the full article, click here

Porter explains that, collaborating with archivist Rich Remsberg, “We ended up using 75 different sources in the project, so he went everywhere and looked over as much as he could, and then one of the big challenges was just getting it organized so that we could make sure that somebody was putting eyes on all the hours of footage that we collected. So figuring out that process was our first big challenge. 

“Rich went to the big sources and a big source for us was news networks,” Porter continues. “They had just started covering Bobby Kennedy’s life and campaign in the 60s, so there was a rich source of footage and we got a lot that had not been seen before. 

“And then the third source was independent filmmakers. There were all these people that would become legendary filmmakers like D. A. Pennebaker and Robert Drew, so we went to them—their families in the case of Drew and [Charles] Guggenheim and then to Pennebaker himself—so we did that exercise. There were some really wonderful moments from that effort.” To read the full interview, click here.

Read more: What If Robert F. Kennedy Had Become President?

Read more: Dawn Porter on her Netflix Docuseries Bobby Kennedy for President

Read more: Bobby Kennedy: Netflix Documentary Shines a Light on His Relevance

“What’s apparent throughout the film is how many of the problems Kennedy spoke up about during the 1960s continue to divide America today,” writes Sophie Gilbert. “In 1968, the year of Kennedy’s presidential run and assassination, the country seemed riven by violence. January saw the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, and subsequent protests raging at home. At the end of that month, the journalist Pete Hamill wrote a letter to Kennedy imploring him to run for president, which Hamill reads from in the series. ‘I don’t think we can afford five summers of blood,’ Hamill had written. ‘If you won, the country might be saved.’ 

“In April, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Porter includes archival footage of Kennedy breaking the news to a largely black crowd in Indiana, and quoting Aeschylus. What the country needs most now, he tells them, isn’t more division and hatred, but ‘love and wisdom and compassion toward one another.'” To read the full article, click here.

Read more: How Change Happens: Dawn Porter Explores Bobby Kennedy, Politician and Person, 50 Years Later