What does the Abraham Zapruder film show?

The film shows President Kennedy and his motorcade in Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas as shots are being fired. The film shows the presidential limousine as it travels west on Elm Street toward the triple underpass. The Texas School Book Depository, the building where investigators found empty shells and a rifle, was out of view to Zapruder’s left. A grassy knoll, from where some believe a second assassin fired, was out of view to his right.

Is the Zapruder film the only film of the assassination?

It is the only film known to exist showing all of the shooting. Three other home movies show part of the assassination, and as many as five still photographers took at least one picture while shots were fired. Several others made pictures immediately before or after the assassination. At least three photographers remain unidentified and their pictures, if any, are unseen.

Did Kennedy’s limousine driver turn and fire the fatal shot?

No. The “driver did it” theory started with a poor-quality copy of the Zapruder film in which the image was very unclear. What was thought to be a pistol was actually the top of a passenger’s head.

Has the Zapruder film been altered to hide evidence of a conspiracy?

No. Most alteration theories originate with people who have little, or no, technical experience with motion picture special effects and who do not realize there are obvious, telltale signs of such work. Despite his belief in a conspiracy, filmmaker Oliver Stone (JFK, 1991) was among a number of film experts who dismissed the idea of Zapruder film alternation. Stone – like other Hollywood producers/directors – has a long professional history with multiple film types and, with careful study, can recognize evidence of special effects and forgery on film. He concluded in 1992 that the Zapruder film was authentic.

Are some of the Zapruder frames “missing”?

No. Six frames, from two different parts of the original film, were accidentally damaged by LIFE magazine personnel while they were preparing pictures for publication. Fortunately, three duplicate copies were made of the original film before the damage occurred. Two of those films are stored at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and the third is in the Museum’s Zapruder Collection. The copy now in the Museum’s collection was apparently also damaged when it was at LIFE and it, too, may be lacking one or two of the “missing” frames. All frames of the film are accounted for at the National Archives.

Why was the Zapruder film not shown on television right away?

When Abraham Zapruder sold his film to Life magazine the day after the assassination, it was with the understanding that the magazine not exploit the graphic details of the president’s death. Life executives agreed to withhold the film from public exhibition until emotions cooled down. The film was first aired on television by Geraldo Rivera on March 6, 1975, on the ABC show Good Night, America.

Can you hear the shots on the Zapruder film?

No. Abraham Zapruder was using an 8mm Bell & Howell home movie camera to film the president. Home movie cameras in those days did not have sound capability.

Does the Zapruder film prove there was a conspiracy?

By itself, the film cannot prove or disprove a conspiracy. It shows the fatal shot to the president’s head in graphic detail, but the timing and location of other shots is somewhat subjective because no specific effect of a bullet can be seen.

Will computer enhancement bring out more details of the shooting?

Perhaps, but it is not likely. The amount of detail recorded on film depends on the type of film, whether the exposure and focus were set properly, and the technical quality of the lens. Abraham Zapruder’s camera was a good one for an amateur, but the lens was only average. Computers cannot sharpen what isn’t there.

Where can I learn more about the film?

You can learn more about the film by visiting the Museum’s Zapruder Film Timeline. You can view the film itself on the Museum’s collections database.

For further reading, see The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFKs Assassination (David Wrone, 2003), National Nightmare on Six Feet of Film: Mr. Zapruders Home Movie and the Murder of President Kennedy (Richard Trask, 2005), and LIFE The Day Kennedy Died: Fifty Years Later (LIFE, 2013). For documentary viewing, see Image of an Assassination: A New Look at the Zapruder Film (MPI Home Video, 1998). For conclusions reached by the Assassination Records Review Board, see Chapter 6, Part II, which includes reference to an examination and report on the film by Eastman Kodak Company 8mm film expert Roland Zavada.