The Film

The Film Premiered at the John F Kennedy Library and Museum in May to an audience of more than 300.

Click the arrow above to view a “trailer” of the film.

“Speaking at Amherst College in his native Massachusetts on Oct. 26, 1963 – with his final trip to Dallas four weeks ahead — Kennedy delivered a powerful message to the liberal arts-schooled students about the dynamics of poetry and power. His thesis – that the young were obligated, through the arts and their activism, to question societal institutions, government and politics included – struck a chord among those who were there, so strongly for some that it has profoundly influenced their lives.” — ED BRADLEY, Associate curator of film at the Flint Institute of Arts; formerly Flint Journal editor, writing for the East Village Magazine.

Contact Your Local Station to Request Broadcasts of JFK: The Last Speech.  

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Upcoming Broadcasts

Read interview of Bestor Cram by Albert Nigrin, Executive Director/Curator of the New Jersey Film Festival. Bestor Cram is Producer/Director of JFK The Last Speech.

The Film – JFK: The Last Speech

In this era of political tension, when civic culture is fractured, when the value of the liberal arts is questioned, a message from 1963 has particular resonance toda​y.

Twenty-seven days before he was assassinated, President Kennedy came to Amherst College to honor the poet Robert Frost. He spoke of the relationship between poetry and power and of a view shared with Frost that power must be exercised, but wisely — tempered by a moral restraint inspired by the arts and a liberal education. And, he spoke of the obligation of those “given a running start in life” to serve the public interest.

Our documentary, JFK: The Last Speech, coinciding with the 2017 centenary of JFK’s birth, communicates the impact of this message through the stories of Amherst alumni and students and reflections by prominent scholars and political observers. Produced by an award winning filmmaker, Northern Light Productions, this film will ignite public discourse on enduring values and on our shared responsibility for the public interest. It is a call to action to rebuild our civic sphere — infused with broad sympathy, understanding, and compassion. – Reunion ’64

Excerpt showing President Kennedy's hand-written edit to his address at Amherst

From the Filmmaker

Bestor Cram

The filmmaker, Bestor Cram, discussed his perspective on the meaning of JFK: The Last Speech in his essay,“ Solace from Well-Chosen Words.” Excerpts from this essay follow:

In 1960, Norman Mailer prophesized that “America’s politics would now be America’s favorite movie.” Following three years of John Kennedy’s presidency, motion pictures of assassination, murder and funeral would unite the nation in astonished grief, in a manner we had not known before. What we had believed and trusted all changed. The solace and insight that words bring seemed to disappear. We were left to judge not if life had become a movie, but more profoundly what had this shared medium meant to our sense of self, our evolving national character, and the way we understood the world we lived in.

The fact was that we had been brought together less by an event than by an individual: Kennedy. And the camera had much to do with translating his charismatic eloquence.

As a documentary filmmaker, visual evidence is my stock and trade. I know, however, that this is not the silent film era. It is a time in which the sound that accompanies cinema is more than mere music or amplification of natural elements. It is often the vehicle that enables the narrative to unveil itself. Often it is what provides structure, sets tone, and reveals emotion so linked to the experience of cinematic storytelling.

In the case of the two principal subjects of JFK: The Last Speech, it is the passionate voice and carefully selected words that provide the foundation for reconsidering an address that was largely lost in the tragic events closely following its October 1963 delivery at Amherst College by JFK, who was honoring Robert Frost. Historian Douglas Brinkley states,

“Kennedy thought oratory was a way to move people. And you saw that when he started out with his inaugural address and you follow these remarkable set of speeches. Honestly, you have to go back – I mean, FDR had great speeches, but they weren’t these compositions of intellectual and civic engagement the way that Kennedy did.”

JFK: The Last Speech has been a project of passion, in memory of a man who served our nation with a noble distinction that would seem essential to the office he held, and yet is so lacking in the politics of today The disparity causes us to reflect on the stanzas of President Kennedy’s address that speak to our need to be engaged citizens who find wisdom in the arts:

“The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state … In pursuing his perceptions of reality, he must often sail against the currents of his time.”

We learn from the past; it offers inspiration and guidance for how to navigate the ethical dilemmas we encounter on a daily basis. “When power corrupts, poetry cleanses,” Kennedy said. And like many documentaries, this story has multiple endings…

The other ending has to be with Robert Frost, whom JFK was eulogizing at Amherst: “We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth,” said the President. I love to believe that cinema is part of understanding what the truth is. The act of going to the cinema is part of our own search for truth. It is also an affirmation of friendship, for we are able to see life in a movie and share that with those we hold dear. For many of us, it is Frost who was able to underscore our humanity simply and eloquently as an extension of who we are to one another. 1

excerpts from essay by Bestor Cram, Principal and Creative Director of Northern Light Productions

Film Credits:

Executive Producer: Neil Bicknell
Associate Producers: Robert Benedetti, Roger Mills, Stephen Smith II, Richard Sparks, Charles Stover III

Historians appearing in the film:
Douglas Brinkley, Ellen Fitzpatrick, Jay Parini

Amherst 64 Classmates:
Featured Stories: Steve Downs, Ted Nelson, Eugene Palumbo, George Wanlass,

Perspectives: Raymond D. Battocchi, Pat DeLeon, Robert Frank, James T. Giles, Tom Jacobs, Doug Lowy, Mitch Meisner, Roger Mills, Peter Rubinstein, Terry Segal, Paul C. Stern, Joseph Stiglitz, Charles Stover, Joseph Wilson

Filmmaker: Northern Light Productions
Producer/Director: Bestor Cram
Co-Producer/Writer: Matthew MacLean
Co-Producer/Narrator: Portland Helmich
Editor: Glen Fukushima
Animator: James Carlsen
Research Archivist: Shane Butler
Cinematographers: Bestor Cram, Jesse Beecher
Sound Recordists: Matthew MacLean, Ben Avishai, Andy Turrett

Previous Broadcasts of The Film

Friday June 1st
Pittsburgh (WQED Showcase)

Saturday June 2nd
Pittsburgh (WQED Showcase)
Flint MI (WCMU & WCMZ)
Traverse City MI (WCMW)
Alpena MI (WCML)
Los Angeles (KCET)
Los Angeles (KCET LINK)

Sunday June 3rd
Pittsburgh (WQED Showcase)
Los Angeles (KCET)
Washington, DC (WHUT)
Tucson AZ (KUAT)
Providence (RhodeIslandPBS)
San Francisco (KQED PLUS & KQEH)
Monterey CA (KQET-2)
Grand Rapids & Kalamazoo
Philadelphia (WLVT)
Miami (WLRN)

Monday June 4th
Providence (RIPBS)
Tucson AZ (KUAT)
Pittsburgh (WQED Showcase)
Peoria (WTVP)

Tuesday June 5th
Philadelphia (WLVT)
Detroit (WTVS)
Pittsburgh (WQED Showcase)
Los Angeles (KCET LINK)
Oklahoma City & Tulsa
Washington, DC (MPT)
Baltimore (MPT)
Pittsburgh (MPT)
Maryland (MPT)
Indianapolis (WFYI)
Norfolk (WHRO)
Buffalo (WNED)
Wilkes Barre/Scranton (WVIA)
Austin (KLRU)
Tucson AZ (KUAT)

Wednesday June 6th
Miami (WLRN)
Pittsburgh (WQED Showcase)
Norfolk (WHRO)
Wilkes Barre/Scranton (WVIA)
Rochester/Austin MN (KSMQ)
Indianapolis (WFYI-3)

Thursday June 7th
Pittsburgh (WQED Showcase)
Los Angeles (KCET LINK)
New Orleans (WYES)

Friday June 8th
Rochester/Austin MN (KSMQ)
Los Angeles (KCET)
Pittsburgh (WQED Showcase)

Saturday June 9th
Pittsburgh (WQED Showcase)
Wilkes Barre/Scranton (WVIA)
Tucson AZ (KUAT)
Cleveland (WVIZ)

Sunday June 10th
Norfolk (WHRO)
Pittsburgh (WQED Showcase)
Spokane/Pullman (KWSU)
NORTH DAKOTA (Prairie Public Broadcasting)
St Louis (KETC)
Topeka (KTWU)

Monday June 11th
Pittsburgh (WQED Showcase)
Rochester/Austin MN (KSMQ)

Tuesday June 12th
Pittsburgh (WQED Showcase)

Wednesday June 13th
Pittsburgh (WQED Showcase)

Thursday June 14th
Pittsburgh (WQED Showcase)

Sunday June 24th
Los Angeles (KCET)

Tuesday June 26th
Los Angeles (KCET)

Tuesday July 3rd
Los Angeles @ 1 pm (KCET)

Wednesday July 4th 
Los Angeles @ 6:30 pm  (KCET LINK)
Los Angeles @ 11:30 pm (KCET LINK)

Friday July 7th
Los Angeles @ 10 am (KCET)

Thursday August 9th
Boston (WGBH) @ 9 pm

“When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence”

– President Kennedy at Amherst College


1 Bestor Cram, “Solace from Well-Chosen Words,” JFK: The Last Speech. Mascot Books, 2018.

Photo Credits:

Excerpt showing President Kennedy’s hand-written edit to his address at Amherst.  Courtesy of the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library.

Bestor Cram.  Courtesy of Northern Light Productions.