Power With Words

Innovative Dallas film project engages locals to bring JFK's Unspoken Speech to life

Dallas film project taps locals to bring JFK Unspoken Speech to life

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s death, Cliff Simms and Peter Wood are enlisting Dallas citizens to help them complete a seven-part film series focusing on Kennedy’s Unspoken Speech, which was to be delivered at the Dallas Trade Mart on November 22, 1963.

The two Brits were initially drawn to the Unspoken Speech when Wood’s colleague told him about the 500 hand-made books that Stanley Marcus commissioned of the speech. It piqued Wood’s interest in typography and lettering, but the JFK angle also resonated with him.

“I remember standing in class in Scotland when I heard Kennedy had been killed,” he says. “Being brought up a Catholic, even though he was American, we were immensely proud of him.”

 Project co-founders Cliff Simms and Peter Wood want people around the world to recognize how the people of Dallas remembered JFK 50 years later.

The Unspoken Speech stuck with Wood. By 2007, he was in Dallas as a creative director, but it wasn’t until a talk with Simms in April 2012, after a meeting at their firm, Resident Alien, that the project began to take shape.

The original idea was to give citizens a card with one word from the speech on it, to spell out the more than 2,500 words. They quickly realized that would result in a 40-minute video. Instead, Simms and Wood took seven passages from the speech that they felt were still relevant in today’s world.

The first video, Words Alone, which the pair directed, features 85 Dallas citizens doing a pared-down version of Wood’s original vision. The second short, Only An America, features Dallas civil rights activist Clarence Broadnax delivering lines from the speech regarding equal rights.

“A lot of the speech is of the period, and some of it isn’t relevant,” Simms says. “But there are parts that, when extracted, are still very powerful statements.”

In addition to issues of civil rights, the Unspoken Speech touches on military involvement abroad; promoting a healthy, singular Union; and Texas’ contributions to American innovation. The pair says that the films are designed to incorporate North Texas citizens to help memorialize JFK in a permanent way that can be seen outside of Dallas. They believe the city’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary misses the mark.

“The city’s commemoration doesn’t feature people from Dallas,” Simms says. “The choir isn’t from Dallas, the people speaking aren’t from Dallas. It’s a little interesting and kind of disappointing that the city has elected to import the commemoration and doesn’t feel comfortable utilizing talent within city confines.

“Considering they’re trying to push the Arts District and the opera house, it’s kind of a little shameful, to be honest, to not use them for a commemoration to a worldwide event and the most significant event in the city’s history. If you want to flip it, New York City or London wouldn’t do that. If you aspire to be on that level, you have to walk the walk.”

The pair intends to have the films, which have been directed by area talent such as Tom Hussey and Stewart Cohen, finished in time to premiere at a gallery somewhere in Dallas on November 22, to show Dallas people breathing life into the speech they were robbed of 50 years ago.

The next filming takes place Saturday, September 7, at Union Coffee near SMU, from 9 am to 5 pm. The film, Dissident Voices, is part of a partnership with Texas Woman’s University photographers to create a book featuring Kennedy’s words. Simms and Wood invite anyone interested in the project to stop by and spend five minutes being filmed reading the book.

Above all, Simms and Wood want people around the world to recognize how the people of Dallas remembered JFK 50 years later.

“The flyover and tolling of the bells and the plaque in the ground are all good and well if you’re here,” Simms says. “But if you’re not here to see what Dallas did to commemorate the momentous event, that won’t be left on the 23rd. Our hope is that a day, a week, a month after, people will find these films and know what Dallas did to remember.”

JFK, The University of Texas at Arlington Library
JFK's Unspoken Speech was to be given at the Dallas Trade Mart on the day of his assassination, November 22, 1963. Photo courtesy of Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library
Lee Harvey Oswald Cell for JFK Unspoken Speech
The third film in the JFK Unspoken Speech project, Our Adversaries, was shot inside the jail cell where Lee Harvey Oswald was kept after his arrest. Photo by Cliff Simms
JFK, The University of Texas at Arlington Library
Lee Harvey Oswald Cell for JFK Unspoken Speech