Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment

Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment
Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment
Directed by Robert Drew
Produced by Robert Drew
Gregory Shuker
Starring John F. Kennedy
George Wallace
Robert F. Kennedy
Vivian Malone
James Hood
Nicholas Katzenbach
Cinematography Gregory Shuker
Studio ABC News
Drew Associates
Release date(s) October 21, 1963
Running time 52 min.
Country United States
Language English

Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment is a 1963 cinéma vérité documentary film directed by Robert Drew. The film centers on the University of Alabama integration crisis of June 1963. Drew and the other filmmakers, such as D. A. Pennebaker and Richard Leacock, were given access to all the key areas, including John F. Kennedy's Oval Office in the White House and the homes of Robert F. Kennedy and George Wallace. The film first aired on ABC four months after the incident.[1]



During a two-day period before and after the University of Alabama integration crisis, the film uses four camera crews to follow President John F. Kennedy, attorney general Robert F. Kennedy, Alabama governor George Wallace, deputy attorney general Nicholas Katzenbach and the students Vivian Malone and James Hood. As Wallace has promised to personally block the two black students from enrolling in the university, the JFK administration discusses the best way to react to it, without rousing the crowd or making Wallace a martyr for the segregationist cause.

They come up with a plan to quickly federalize the Alabama National Guard and return later the same day, if Wallace indeed refuses to step out of the way despite the court order. The plan works; Wallace steps aside under orders from General Henry V. Graham, but is given the chance to save face and leave before the students enter the building. President Kennedy later gives a speech on equality on national television, and a third black student, Dave McGlathery, enrolls without incident.


Although opinions on Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment were sharply divided after the October 1963 broadcast,[2] it is now considered among the landmark films of cinéma vérité, or direct cinema.[3] Peter von Bagh rated it ahead of Drew's earlier work Primary, considering it the most touching and intimate portrait of the Kennedy brothers on film.[3] Fred Kaplan wrote on The New York Times that "though we now know the story’s ending — the students were finally let in — the suspense is gripping." He dubbed it "the first movie that Barack Obama should watch in the White House screening room."[1]


  1. ^ a b Kaplan, Fred (January 16, 2009). "When the Kennedys Took on Wallace Over Integration". The New York Times. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 
  2. ^ O'Connell, P. J. (2010). Robert Drew and the Development of Cinema Verite in America. Southern Illinois University Press. p. 184. 
  3. ^ a b "Kriisi" (in Finnish). YLE Teema. May 26, 2010. Retrieved November 1, 2011. 

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