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The Commission

Tim Gratz

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Tim Gratz Posted Today, 06:10 AM

  Has anyone seen "The Commission"? I think it's coming to Key West in March.


I contacted the director Mark Sobel last summer, regarding posibilities of viewing/purchasing this film. Here's his reply:

"Hi. The film will be playing the fall film festivals, and hopefully will attract a distributor. No plans for video release at this time. Keep checking the site for info. Thanks, Mark. "

Haven't seen it but would like to asap.

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Tim Gratz Posted Today, 06:10 AM

  Has anyone seen "The Commission"? I think it's coming to Key West in March.


I contacted the director Mark Sobel last summer, regarding posibilities of viewing/purchasing this film. Here's his reply:

"Hi. The film will be playing the fall film festivals, and hopefully will attract a distributor. No plans for video release at this time. Keep checking the site for info. Thanks, Mark. "

Haven't seen it but would like to asap.


Is this film about the Warren Commission, by chance?



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Mark screened the film for us at the Lancer conference in Dallas last November

and its a wonderful work - and yes it is on the Warren Commission. Lots of

very skilled and wll known actors, I found it more compelling than the

Stone film although it is not "action" oriented and most likely would not do

as well with a large commercial audiance. What it does do is highlight the

internal conflicts and ironies of the WC is a point by point and captivating

manner. I can't imagine anyone watching it and not demanding a new


I suspect that it will do very well at festivals but with no sex, explosions,

special effects etc its hard for me seeing it go into theatres. Perhaps onto

cable spots though. Its the sort of thing you used to see on Hallmark Theatre.

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It took a little while but I found a review and interview about this movie:

it is taken from a Sam Waterson site:

Sam and The Commission

An interview with filmmaker Mark Sobel

Filmmaker Mark Sobel started directing television films in 1991. His credits include The Equalizer, Quantum Leap, and I'll Fly Away which starred Sam Waterston. His ultimate quest is to make feature theatrical films. The Commission is a film based on the actual transcripts of the Warren Commission. To quote Mr. Sobel, it is "... study in power and hypocrisy; of emperors wearing no clothes; of the blind character of human nature allowing a person to see only what serves their personal interest, when they would instantly call-on-the-carpet anyone else doing exactly the same thing; of asking questions again and again until only the desired answer is heard; of deliberate cover-up by some and of foolishness by others; of outright misrepresentation and unconscionable manipulation; and of the broad question of whether there exists the possibility of Justice ever prevailing within a Political system."

Thanks go to the fans who thought up these questions: Bluerose, Chris, Feste, Kathy, Keri, OM, Rerun, Sherry, and yours truly.

Sam the Actor

1. What was it like working with Sam Waterston?

I'd call Sam an "Actor's actor." It is hard to describe exactly what I mean by that, except to say that there are thousands upon thousands of people out there who perform, and many are gifted. But working with Sam Waterston is like a scientist having the chance to collaborate with a Newton, or an Einstein or a Fiennman. He cannot make a wrong or false choice. Now as a filmmaker I might ask him to try a different interpretation (I've done two projects with Sam, and he has never once balked at a direction), but no matter what his first instinct was, it was still a 100% believable performance. That quality is what separates a "good" actor from (I hate to be trite) an "Actor's actor." Other actors I've had the pleasure to work with who fit into that kind of category includes James Earl Jones, Martin Landau, Martin Sheen --- whatever they try just works right out of the box, even if we then experiment with other approaches.

2. What words would you use to describe Sam the actor and Sam the man?

As an actor, Sam can transform into "any man." Behind the scenes I have found Sam to be humble, funny, relaxed, politically concerned and a very warm person.

3. What about "I'll Fly Away?" What was it like working with Sam on that show?

"I'll Fly Away" is one of the finest experiences I've ever had. What was fascinating to me was that Sam approached the whole series like a very long movie. So if all the storylines were developed for , say, 10 episodes, he would not just consider his character's actions during the single hour episode being shot, but for all 10 hours. So that if something was happening in hour 6 that seemed to be a contradiction to what he had done in hour 2, and what he will be doing in hour 10, it was important to Sam to find a way to make sense of it so that he was consistent in all 10 hours. I've never seen another actor do such deep character work in a TV series (but of course Sam came out of feature films). Interestingly, Sam would never ask the writers to change their words on his account --- but just to help him make internal sense of it. Again, an "actor's actor."

4. And what chance is there it will either be re-broadcast or released on DVD?

PBS re-broadcast the series after it finished its 2-year run on NBC. If it were to be shown again, PBS would seem to be the likely place. Also, while I believe that Warners owns the show, the more likely distributor on DVD would be PBS. Start a write-in to both the PBS network, as well as PBS video.

5. If you could pick a project to do with Sam-budget and time not being limited-what would it be?

Not to dodge the question, but -- absolutely anything. I have my own pet projects, but usually "pet projects" don't get made by studios. That's why I had to put the financing of THE COMMISSION myself. Otherwise the story on film it would have likely been lost to history.

Sam and The Commission

6. How did you choose the actors for the roles? Did you want someone who was unavailable, and had to turn it down?

I literally imagined the finest world-class actor appropriate for each role, regardless of how many millions of dollars (that the budget didn't have) it should have cost. Some, like Sam, I had worked with before. Others I had not.

Virtually every major actor that I approached who read the script jumped at the opportunity to get this film made, and it was shot through a special "Art House" agreement of the Screen Actors Guild that did not even guarantee them that they would ever see a dime out of it. This was a labor of love for all involved in the truest sense. Every actor on the screen was there because of their personal conviction in the project --- money had nothing to do with it. In Hollywood, that is virtually unheard of!

7.Did you have to work around shooting schedules, say, for "The West Wing," or "Law and Order?"

YES. That's partly why the film took so long to shoot (5 years in pieces). I had the world's finest actors who had agreed to do the film, and it then became a matter of scheduling around all their studio commitments.

The Commission

8. Will we ever get the whole story on the Kennedy assassination? Does your movie provide answers or just more questions that we may never get the answers to?

The problem is that the crime was never "genuinely" investigated. The transcripts suggest that far from taking actions out of "concern for the country," most Commissioners (with the possible exception of Warren and Boggs) were driven by a concern for their own images and careers.

There was practically nothing in the testimony of witnesses called that could have ever suggested "who" assassinated President Kennedy - what should have been obvious to anyone who wanted to see it was that the Dallas Police and FBI were not looking to find anything or anyone more than the one man that they had in custody, (no law enforcement agency could be accused of failing to protect the President in the case of a lone nut). Now --- let's assume for the sake of argument that Oswald had indeed done it alone. The fact that the authorities were only really focused on Oswald (and to some degree Ruby) would, by definition, be called "framing after-the-fact." And if you frame a guilty man, there is then no way for history to determine guilt or innocence.

We know from the record that FBI interviews quoted witnesses identifying Oswald, when they never had. We know that any evidence that wasn't 100% consistent with Oswald's guilt was destroyed. We know that evidence was tampered with. There is, in fact, very, very little documented evidence that we can trust today.

In the case of the murder of the most powerful man in the world, it is foolish to feel that the crime has been solved because of a rifle and some fingerprints --- which is really the entire "credible" evidence. Perhaps Oswald did do it alone, but if there was an organized plan, then arranging for someone's rifle and prints to be found in the building Oswald worked in would logically be the very least that a planner would do to try to protect themselves from being hunted down by virtually every law enforcement officer in the world!

In a case of such magnitude, then, this "evidence" cannot possibly tell us with any certainty at all whether Oswald was alone, complicit (knowingly or unknowingly) or even innocent, and the volume of evidence that we now know was not followed up, posing many, many disturbing questions, makes it impossible, I believe, to feel that we currently can say that we know anything definitive about what happened.

For anyone presume to know what really happened on November 22, 1963, in light of the paucity that we posses in evidence today is, I believe, the ultimate in arrogance and bias indicative of an agenda at work. Even IF the crime truly involved a lone assassin, I believe that the "official" story is highly inadequate --- and that a criminal obstruction of justice clearly took place among law enforcement. And this is stated independent of whether the assassin was one person or several. We simply do not have the knowledge to even credibly speculate because of this total failure of the American system of Justice, mired also in Politics at every level from the Local Police and through every department up to and including the President of the United States.

(Does this tell you what I think of the quality of journalism in TV Network specials that claim to "prove" what really happened? Be especially aware of all the various computer "simulations." They are just cartoons designed to show what the artist intended --- since a simulation must start with accurate data on the position of the wounds on the President's head, and the US Government officially changed the wound positions in 1979 to reflect something that no witness ever testified to seeing; further, virtually all who have seen the autopsy photo on which the wound-shuffle was based have strongly insisted that it does not reflect what they saw that night. The folks doing the computer "simulation" fail to mention that it is necessary to use the second, contentious placement of the wounds in order to get their animation to come out right.

The only animation that I know of that actually brought to light something unexpected, was a German study that included the Secret Service follow-up car as part of the re-creation, and raised a question as to how clean any shot from the 6th floor SE window would have been through the sea of heads of the SS Agents who were standing on the running boards. It suggested that a highly skilled sniper might have had a clean shot --- though more like threading a needle --- but raised questions about whether anything less that perfection could have avoided hitting a Secret Service Agent. Given the universal agreement that a wild shot missed the car completely, this becomes especially troubling. It proves nothing; just adds another disturbing issue to the list of things never properly investigated.)

And rather than expose the Dallas Police and FBI, and call for a new Investigation, the Commission just perpetuated the situation with its own efforts to create a misleading report that took witness testimony out of context to arrive at conclusions that, we now know, had been outlined by the lawyers long before a single witness was heard.

And we have also had 40 years of disinformation. I think at last count about 30 people had been identified as a shooter behind the picket fence.

So even if the true story has been revealed within a sea of disinformation, no one would know what to believe anyway.

9. As a 10 year old Pennsylvanian, and echoing the opinions of the nuns and my parents, I am proud that our junior Senator [Arlen Spector] was helping to capture the President's murderer with a unique and creative theory. As an independent, creative thinking adult, I think he was on drugs when he proposed it. What did the Commission REALLY think of his plan when closeted in private, and is this addressed in the film?

The film shows from the testimony how the single bullet theory was advanced. Because none of the real doctors or ballistic experts would buy it, (even though the report claims that they did by taking tiny quotes out of context), it was ultimately only the Army Veterinarian who was willing to fall on his sword for Mr. Specter and who agreed with every word placed in his mouth. It is a sad statement for history, and for the memory of President Kennedy, that the Commission had to resort to a Military Animal Doctor to overrule the others in order to sell America on the facts from "the experts." It's a little like how Sir Thomas Moore was taken down, for those who have studied history.

The Commissioners themselves were pretty much out to lunch on the fine details of anything --- facts, theories or whatever. The rules stated that only 1 Commissioner had to be at a hearing for it to constitute a quorum, and if 3 or 4 of the 7 Commissioners showed up it was a big turnout. So most Commissioners saw less than about half the witnesses, and many saw far fewer than that. (Of course, they all received copies of transcripts of the 95 Washington witnesses). Further, 80% of the witnessed (about 400) testified in Dallas in front of a only a Commission lawyer, with NO Commissioner present.

During one scene included in the film, the Commissioners try to get straight which doctor said what, and whether he though a single bullet "did" cause all the wounds, or "might" have caused all the wounds even though the doctor "didn't think it did." This led to a vague recollection that one doctor said that they'd need to see the autopsy photos to tell better. (As a Commission, these photos were never seen) And fumbling almost senile dialog is all based on transcripts; I haven't invented anything for dramatic effect..

Overall, they come off as a bunch of elderly politicians not qualified to be there, nor having the time even if they had been qualified. Frequently much of what they said was foolish. In order to keep the film from coming off like a satire, I actually eliminated much of this "humorous" material in order to keep the characters credible (and so as not to be accused of deliberately trying to make them look stupid). There is about an hour that was left on the cutting room floor. Many who saw the original cut urged me not to pull anything, but at over 2 1/2 hours it was simply too intense for an average person. There is so much information packed in it, that some people simply get overwhelmed. I tried to find a final running time that would allow an audience of viewers who were "into" the material (if someone is not "into" the material, thay will hate this film no matter what; it is not "entertainment") to come out feeling a little bit strainned and overwhelmed ... but not to the point of getting a stress-attack. I felt that to have cut the film any shorter than its 105 minutes would have started to dumb it down.

10. Mr. Sobel, I'm certain you've visited the 6th Floor Museum and peered out the window adjacent to Oswald's perch. Did it not give you a sense of the possibility that Oswald may well have fired all shots?

Oswald must surely have felt, as I and my fellow visitors did, that he was almost on top of the motorcade as it drove down Houston and turned on Elm. The experience of seeing Dealey Plaza from that angle makes it difficult for me to completely reject the single-shooter theory. What say you? Thank you.

What seems to be absent from the general "public knowledge base" was the fact that FBI and Military recreations using the actual Oswald rifle found (a) the scope was defective, and could not be correctly aligned; and (:rolleyes: the bolt on the rifle would stick when worked to reload, causing the rifle to swing wildly off the target after each shot; and © that it was necessary for a shooter using this weapon to pull their eye away from the scope when working the bolt in order to avoid being smashed in the face with the bolt (I obtained an exact duplicate down to the same model scope --- even running it in slow motion it was painful).

This now makes that 4x scope, (cited as bringing the president up so close in view that no one could possibly miss), much more problematic --- as anyone who has ever tried to, say, follow the action at a sporting event through binoculars can attest to.

Once you lose all sight of your subject, to re-locate it through the scope is a frustrating and time consuming chore, (and likely made more confusing by the heads of all the Secret Service Agents who were standing on the running boards of the follow-up car). And of course a shooter trying to locate the target all over again is not in a position to improve the aim by merely making a slight adjustment after seeing the result.

And as far as a misaligned scope goes: the Warren Report states in one place that a shooter could have compensated for the alignment error (this is if the shooter was a good marksman), and in another place says that the error in scope alignment would have helped the shooter (this is if he was a bad marksman, and didn't take a proper "lead"). So the report makes the shooter both a good marksman as well as a bad marksman --- and justifies anything required to pin the shooting on one man by misquoting tiny phrases of testimony, usually obtained by the lawyer leading the witness since the lawyer knew which words he needed to get on record. Specter was brilliant at it. You could conclude one thing from the way he cited quotes in the report, and then read the actual testimony (if you could obtain access to it --- only 2700 copies were printed for sale to the public in a 26 volume set {Earl Warren referred to a couple thousand copies as just "a drop in the bucket" in a country of then 180 million}; even worse, it took 8 years to sell just 2700 copies, that's how much the public cared to check it out for themselves!), and try to fingure out how such conclusions could ever have been reached in the report when nothing remotely like that kind of intent was conveyed at any time by a witness --- and in fact usually just the oposite was said! It's like reading a really bad movie review, and then seeing in the newspaper ad how just a few snipits are used with (...) connecting them to give the totally opposite impression of what the film credit intended.

Now again, I'm not saying that this proves whether one man did or did not do the shooting --- simply that there are grave problems with the official version, the authorities knew it, the American public was fed pablum, and for 40 years has ultimately been willing to accept it. Today, however, it is not nearly so much a question of who shot JFK, but rather: does Justice work? And have Americans been so complacent for 40 years in their belief of their freedom, that they don't wish to risk learning ugly truths. I began work on THE COMMISSION not to deal at all with who shot JFK --- but out of a sense of being insulted on behalf of all of America that this is what went on behind closed doors in the name of Justice while Americans wept.

While the testimony cannot tell us what DID happen, it can tells us much about what probably did NOT happen.

The information above is also a part of the film. Not to conclude "who" fired, but to raise serious questions about the integrity of the "investigation," and the insult perpetrated on the American public via the final Report.

11. Do you find it telling that George W. Bush compared to the Warren Commission his recently convened Commission to investigate "Bad Intelligence" leading to the war on Iraq?

I thought it made releasing THE COMMISSION now more timely than ever. "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." In the case of the Warren Commission, it would be "Those who have never been fully informed of the past"

(This, by the way, is not a direct criticism of Bush and Iraq: I just found it humorous that in believing that he was citing "integrity," Bush inadvertantly likened his own Commission to something that history will certainly conclude was a criminal Obstruction of Justice. :-)

12. If "The Commision" gets picked up for distribution as a result of showings at movie festivals, will you have any idea as to when it will be put out on DVD?

I hope that all of America will have the chance to see THE COMMISSION in theaters, but because the film is not a conventional "commercial" film, it poses problems for distributors. While I think the film would prove to be commercial (ie-that at $9 per ticket enough Americans would be fascinated by it and anxious to see it --- it would only take an national audience of 10 or 20 million out of over 300 million to make it a top grossing independent film), this is the kind of film that scares Distributors to death.

There are no imminent plans for a video release prior to a meaningful "commercial" run outside of Film Festivals. The film is vastly more powerful in a theatrical setting. I am planning to protect this film --- I believe that it could prove to be one of the most politically significant American Independent film ever made; I don't want it to become lost to history, and only a meaningful theatrical release will achieve my goal.

13. I've been real curious about where this film went. And why it went away, given the cast. Do you think political pressures are/will directly or indirectly keep distributors away?

I have been very, very careful about over-exposing THE COMMISSION during its Film Festival life. In the film festival world, overexposure reduces interest (sadly - since indie films need all the exposure that they can get). After being screened as a "work-in-progress" last November at the AFI Fest in LA (the screeing sold out in 1 day, 3 weeks before the festival started!), it will next be screened in DALLAS, TEXAS on Aprl 25 in the USA Festival. I figure that this is the best venue to draw attention from the press. I believe that this film should be covered not only as a film event, but also as a news event --- for it makes public for America the inner details of the "Crime of the century" for the first time in 40 years.

I feel that there are massive pressures to keep anything to do with the JFK Assassination out of the press, and therefore out of the public's knowledge. Not necessarily to protect those who might have been involved in an assassination 40 years ago, but because Governments regard uproar over this event and the propect of more investigating as destabilizing --- whenever the subject flares up very 10 years or so, just look at the public outcry. Public outcry is not considered a good thing in politics. And there is still dirty laundry in America's past 40 years that Uncle Sam would not want to be revealed now, nor would they want the revelations of the 60s, 70s and 80s to become re-publicized. The average voter doesn't remember what the Church Committee disclosed in 1975. Many weren't born or are too young to remember). It would not be convenient to remind the public today. And all that stuff, and new information, would come out if a massive investigation were held today.

For example: Something that went totally unannounced in the press is that in 1995 the US Secret Service DESTROYED its Dallas 1963 advance reports on "PRESIDENTIAL PROTECTION." In 1995!!! It was illegal as of the "1992JFK Act" for any agency of Government to destroy JFK files, as all documents were under review for early declassification.

In 1998 the "Assassination Records Review Board" issued a report to Congress, and fully advised them of the destruction of 1963 Dallas-related documents by the Secret Service--- and with a tone of criticism rarely seen in a Government report (generally, government reports only slap hands at best --- otherwise the report's authors had better hide from someone else's next report!)

Not a word of this very significant destruction was picked up by the National Press. Given that the whole 1992 JFK Act came about after public furor over the movie "JFK," and that creation of the "Review Board" was to re-instill the "public faith in Government," it would seem to have been a doubly significant destruction. No investigation. No press.

I think this film will get most of its press attention in Europe, and either receive extraordinarily bad press in the US through 'ringers', or very little attention to start with.

14. If you can't find feature film distribution will you consider trying to sell your film to TV?

No. One way or another I will find a meaningful way to get it out there --- evenr if it takes time. Frankly, just playing in a single art house in New York for 6 months (or more) might generate as much attention as anything. There are non-traditional avenues, and I'll find them -- the film delivers the goods.

15. What can fans do to help see that this film gets the attention it deserves?

Write every independent Distributor in America --- from Miramax on down to the little guys in New York. Remind them that finding an audience of just 10-20 million people in America fascinated by the JFK assassination and willing to pay $9 to get as close as possible to at last knowing what our Government really knew and wanted to keep secret for 75 years would be easy in any event, and that the film has major star-power on top of that. Remind them that this is going to be a very political year with the upcoming election, and although THE COMMISSION is neither for or against any political party, it is a critique on Government that is more relevant today than ever. Remind them that it might catch the coat-tails of the new Michael Moore film (as political films come into vogue this fall) --- and that Moore's last movie grossed $40 million. (Also, go to the web site below and download a copy of the color poster art, print it in color, and include it with your letter). Don't phone or e-mail, it will annoy them. Receiving 10,000 letters a day will get attention. Address your letter to the President of the company.

Ask your local press to cover the ongoing story of THE COMMISSION trying to battle its way into release so that the public can learn the truth --- so that Movies in America are more than just entertainment to dumb down the population.

Use the Internet to spread the word.

And if the film gets an opening in even 1 commercial house later this year, get people to line up around the block to keep it on the marquee for as long as possible. (I won't make a dime off such a 1-house release, by the way. Without a large national release, I won't even get my costs back. Which is ok as long as the film makes its mark).

Everything about THE COMMISSION is diametrically opposed to what Hollywood today considers "marketable." In fact, it is in a way a rejection of the fast, slick look of films today. This subject matter could never have been given justice if made that way --- yet to Distribution executives, fast and slick in their minds equals sales. Even a 1-house New York release could show distributors that there is a huge audience for this very "unconventional" film, even though it is B&W, slowly paced, and has no action. Indeed it's style is akin to a move made 40 years ago.

But then watch --- if this film were ever properly released and captivated America,( ie-made a distributor more money than any small indie in history), suddenly the Major Studios would start making a movie or 2 in Black and White with intense and methodically slow pacing to see if this had become the hot new thing.

I thought these were great questions, and really enjoyed answering them. Stay tuned to www.TheCommissionOnline.com to track the film's progress.

End Interview with Mark Sobel

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Apparently this film has some real flaws. It only earned

three out of ten stars among the first 23 to review it online.

Cast and an online short review:

Cast overview, first billed only:

Martin Landau .... Sen. Richard Russell

Sam Waterston .... J. Lee Rankin

Alan Charof .... Chief Justice Earl Warren

Martin Sheen .... Dep. Atty. Gen. Nicholas Katzenbach

Edward Asner .... Capt. J.W. 'Will' Fritz

Joe Don Baker .... Rep. Hale Boggs

Corbin Bernsen .... Rep. Gerald R. Ford

Lloyd Bochner .... John J. McCloy

Stephen Collins .... Joseph A. Ball

Paul Morgan Fredrix .... Commission Counsel Leon Hubert

Henry Gibson .... Police Chief Jesse Curry

Don Moss .... Sen. John Sherman Cooper

D.C. Douglas .... Staff lawyer

Glenn Morshower .... Cmdr. James J. Humes

Jim Beaver .... Howard L. Brennan

Runtime: USA:102 min (Los Angeles Film Festival)

Country: USA

Language: English

Color: Black and White


User Comments:

A screening with the actual commission present gone wrong!, 8 November 2003

Author: amsterdam from LA

The big premiere at AFI fest. Martin Landau present, Corbin Bernsen present and a handful of other trustees, but the screening went all wrong! I had looked forward to this 'special movie' about the commission that was put together to investigate the actual facts around the assassination of JFK. However, after the director addressed us all, also announcing that he added a sepia tone color to the print, oh and by the way, he hasn't seen this print yet, so please comment afterwards! Well, the sepia tone was distracting, the editing was wrong, the sound mix was very poor and except for the opening 3 minutes, the rest was all titles and talking heads. Don't get me wrong, because Landau, Corbin, Martin Sheen and the rest of the commission are all very charismatic and a joy to see talking, to a certain extent. The pacing though was student film like, the information presented ambiguous and thus a great topic executed so inadequately that it became unbearable. But here comes the best part. Reel 2 kicked in and suddenly everything is out of sync! No seriously, it was not the projector messing up, 'cause we're watching an answer print, or at least a hazeltine. No, it's just pure stupidity that as a director you allow your film to premiere at such a big event, with a packed house filled with celebrities, but you can't seem to make/take time to check your print first before screening. A travesty! That, and the fact that there was a lack of visual and oral storytelling, it all looked more like a projection of a vanity fair article, at best. I beg your pardon, but this was not film-making

{the premiere didn't go so good...but what a great cast!}

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