Exclusive — ‘Chappaquiddick’ Producer Mark Ciardi: This Film Isn’t for ‘the Right or the Left, It’s for the Truth’

chappaquiddick-film
Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

“Now Mary Jo Kopechne has a voice, where she never had a voice before,” said film producer Mark Ciardi of his latest movie, Chappaquiddick, which opens Friday in theaters.

Ciardi joined Breitbart Senior Editor-at-Large Rebecca Mansour and special guest host Patrick Courrielche on Thursday’s edition of SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Tonight to discuss his latest film’s depiction of the events surrounding Ted Kennedy’s 1969 car accident on Chappaquiddick Island on Martha’s Vineyard, in which 28-year-old Kopechne was killed.

He explained the film’s genesis, saying, “I didn’t develop the project. The script was finished. It came to me through a manager friend of mine Chris Fenton, who’s one of the producers on the film with me, and we had a meeting at a new company, kind of private equity, and we’re looking for great projects, and he said, called a couple of weeks later, ‘Listen, I’ve got this great script. These young writers wrote it. First script.’ He goes, ‘I have no idea how the town’s going to respond to it. It’s about Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick,’ so we said, ‘Send it over. Let’s take a read,’ and we read it and fell in love with it. The script was so good and so mesmerizing. It’s such a thriller and page-turner.”

Ciardi described the film’s setting, which begins a day before the Chappaquiddick incident and ends six days after. “It’s amazing how compelling that narrative is when you just look at the facts,” he said, casting the film as neither politically left or right. “[The writers] used the inquest. It wasn’t off of a book. We went with the facts that we knew, and didn’t make a movie for the left or the right. It’s for the truth, and what’s great about that is how audiences on both the left and the right — and reviewers, especially — are praising the movie.”

Mansour concurred, saying, “It’s not an ideological film but an honest film.”

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Ciardi stated, “It’s a very tight line to walk because it’s a pretty bad incident that happened. A girl died at his hands, and his actions after proved pretty incredible, not in a great way.” 

“You really did have some great actors in this,” said Courrielche. “Knowing this town I’m surprised you were able to get the level of talent you got.”

The film stars Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy, Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne. Clancy Brown, Bruce Dern, Ed Helms, and Jim Gaffigan round out an all-star cast. 

Jason Clarke and Andria Blackman in Chappaquiddick (Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, 2017)

Courrielche asked Ciardi if his views on Kennedy changed after working on the film: “Did you have any thoughts going into it, and once you got into the project, did that change at all as the project started to unfold?”

Ciardi replied, “Yeah, I probably had sympathy, I guess, for Ted, until I really dove into the facts, and again, lay them out, and see how the timing went on everything. Even the speech at the end, it was masterful in that it saved his political career, and he went on to serve 40 years in the Senate. Obviously, this event stopped him from being president, almost a sure victory.”

Courrielche asked Ciardi if the Kennedys or others had directed political resistance toward the film. “How has the [Kennedy] family responded to this? Have you guys gotten any feedback from them, or was there any resistance?” Courrielche asked.

“No. Obviously, we did not reach out to them. It’s not flattering. It’s nothing the family would want reenacted in any way, but no push-back, either,” Ciardi explained. “There were some actors that I think probably liked the script a lot but felt they couldn’t go there. But we got a great cast. When we’re shooting in Boston, in Chappaquiddick, there was no push-back, either, [from] teamsters, anybody.”

“I was a little bit, maybe, concerned. Over the last month or so is when we felt some pressure. Our distributor Byron Allen brought it up at our premier, that there’s people out there that don’t want you to see this movie,” Ciardi continued. “Is that directly from the Kennedys? I don’t know. He didn’t go into names, but he said that there’s really pressure that he’s felt and has heard and knows happened.”

Chappaquiddick (Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, 2017)

Ciardi said the film received positive reviews from what he said were “more liberal publications” such as the New York Post, Village Voice, the New York Times, and Vanity Fair

Ciardi explained how “humanizing Kennedy” as the film’s protagonist is essential to making the film appealing to audiences, saying, “I think a movie has to be nuanced, even one as tough as this is. If you lose your main character and despise him from the opening, it’s not going to be much of a movie to watch.”

Mansour described Chappquiddick as “the political equivalent of the MeToo movement,” and “the MeToo film for politics” while asking Ciardi of the film’s origins.

“We started developing this movie in 2015. … This is certainly before Trump, before any of the stuff with Harvey Weinstein, or any of this MeToo movement. It became more relevant as we came closer to release and it just happened that way,” Ciardi replied.

“Now Mary Jo Kopechne has a voice, where she never had a voice before,” added Ciardi. “She was just a picture, a photo, or referred to as the blonde in Chappaquiddick. The family reached out, we showed the movie to them, they were incredibly grateful of how we portrayed her, and she finally got a voice.”

Clancy Brown, Taylor Nichols, and Victor Warren in Chappaquiddick (Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, 2017)

Bruce Dern and Jason Clarke in Chappaquiddick (Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, 2017)

Mansour said of Kopechne, “She was an incredibly valuable member of Robert Kennedy’s staff. She had been a staff member in his office for four years, and she was an idealist who really believed in what Robert Kennedy was talking about. … She was a person who could’ve had an amazing career. She could’ve gone on to be a member of Congress, who knows?”

Ciardi also discussed the film’s revelation of how Kopechne might have been saved had Kennedy acted different following the accident. 

“We spoke and tracked down the scuba diver, John Farrar, and he had been on record… we spoke to John for almost an hour and as he was recounting it, it was chilling, as if it was yesterday, he said when he got into that car and saw the position of the body and the way it was almost kind of reaching for her last breath, up in the corner, hands up,” Ciardi said. “When he took her out and they put her on the beach, when they compressed the stomach and chest that there was a kind of pink froth coming out the nose and mouth, which that signals to him that it was asphyxiation.”

“It was not drowning. … He didn’t know how long. He said it could’ve been five minutes or up to a couple of hours, but she was alive in that car. The fact that he kind of walked past, 75 yards away, the dike house with the light on, he could’ve lit that island up and they could have had help there. Maybe she could have been saved. We can’t say for sure. But even if there’s a chance, that’s pretty bad to not try,” Ciardi continued. “At least have that wherewithal, even if you’ve been drinking, you don’t worry about your own consequences. That’s his biggest failing, and he didn’t report it for ten hours. You cannot get around that, and then he was having brunch the next morning. All that’s factual. When you do that, set that up, and the spin happens, it’s pretty amazing to watch.”

Ciardi said Kennedy “portrayed himself almost as a victim” following the accident. “You can talk about a Kennedy curse, or whatever. I mean, he’s responsible for someone’s death, and then to not notify anybody and pretend like it didn’t happen. In some ways he was reduced to kind of a child. He was like a 10-year-old that threw a baseball through a window and pretended like it didn’t happen.”

Ciardi noted how the Chappaquiddick incident occurred days before Apollo 11’s moon landing, “It’s an amazing week in 1969. Again, the moon landing is happening. Not to minimize that, at all, it’s maybe the greatest achievement in the 20th century is the moon landing. It happened right in the middle of it. JFK’s biggest achievement and Ted’s biggest failing. So all those, I think, adds context to the film.”

Ciardi praised the performances of Bruce Dern and Jason Clarke, portraying Joe Kennedy and Ted Kennedy, respectively. He said, “You’ve got Joe Kennedy, I mean, Bruce Dern said five words in the movie and it was like, geez. I don’t want to give away too much, but Oscar-calibre was Jason Clarke’s role.”

Mansour and Courrielche said Chappaquiddick challenges supporters of Kennedy’s political legacy. Mansour described how at the end of the film, “while the camera was on a still image of the Chappaquiddick bridge” where Kopechne died, the audience hears a “sound montage” listing all of the late Senator Kennedy’s legislative accomplishments throughout his long political career after the incident at Chappaquiddick.

“If you’re a progressive, these were [accomplishments] that are remarkable,” said Mansour. “So [the film] asks you this question: you support these things and these amazing accomplishments that he did with his career, but he did it based on surviving this incident that he had to lie about [and] this young woman died. It asks that really troubling question. It challenges you as a viewer.”

Mansour spoke of the film’s depiction of Kennedy as “living in the shadow” of his brothers.

“He was wandering around Hamlet-like, not knowing what to do. He was so hapless, just pathetic in his inability to take responsibility. He was just sort of whining about himself,” said Mansour. “Throughout the entire film there was this overall judgment of the fact that he was living in the shadow of his great brothers: The eldest brother Joe who was a World War II hero who died during World War II as a pilot. Then you have JFK, this president whose greatest legacy, the moon landing, was that very week. Then you have Robert Kennedy, as he calls him, ‘the brilliant one,’ the one who was beloved by working class Americans and such a great man of the people in that sense, an idealistic figure that young people gravitated towards. And then you got Teddy, who in the opening [scene] can’t even sail properly in the regatta. He bungles that, too.

Courrielche encouraged younger audiences unfamiliar with the Chappaquiddick incident to see the film.

“I think the young kids need to see this as well, because I think they’ll see it and they won’t believe that something like this actually happened in American culture and someone got away with it. What the movie doesn’t cover, but what I thought was interesting is the two guys who kind of helped him to try to get Mary Jo out, both of their careers, I think they suffered pretty heavily after that.”

Mansour added, “I think it’s going to do really well, because the boomer generation that had such attachment to the Kennedys, as they are getting older and as the millennials don’t have that attachment, I think that they can step back and look at this much more objectively. I say this, my parents adored the Kennedys. Both my parents voted for JFK and loved him, and I have great respect for JFK and RFK. … I hope everybody, left and right, goes and checks this out.”

Mansour praised the film while urging people of all political orientations to view it.

“I was going into this completely unsympathetic to [Ted Kennedy]. This is why it’s such a brilliant film. … As a conservative, I go in hating this guy and then come out a little bit more sympathetic or understanding,” She said. “I’m sure liberal people or progressives might go in loving this guy, and then come out feeling a lot more angry or upset about him.”

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