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AFI brings Bobby Kennedy back to life

AFI FEST Opens with 38-Year Journey by Eric Beteille
AFI FEST Daily News

THE TIME IT TAKES TO JOURNEY between the former site of the Ambassador Hotel and the home of Grauman's Chinese Theater: About 20 minutes.
The time it takes to journey between the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and the premiere of a film celebrating the spirit of the man and his time: About 38 years.

The cast of Emilio Estevez's BOBBY, making its US premiere as the Opening Night Gala Presentation of AFI FEST 2006 presented by Audi AFI FEST 2006 presented by Audi opens with BOBBY, a film taking both these landmark journeys.

Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, BOBBY re-imagines the night Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel on June 5, 1968.

Elijah Wood and Lindsay Lohan star in Emilio Estevez's BOBBY.

It screens as part of the AFI FEST Opening Night Gala Presentation at Grauman's Chinese Theater on November 1, 2006.

"When I began writing BOBBY in the summer of 2000, I had a growing frustration with 'runaway production,'" explained Estevez.

"It seemed that one remedy was to create a piece indigenous to Los Angeles by setting the film at the infamous Ambassador Hotel. Surely, this grand hotel could never be duplicated north of the border."

Estevez added: "It is only fitting that the US premiere takes place in Los Angeles. AFI FEST choosing my picture for the opening night is as big of a thrill as a filmmaker could hope for."

"We are honored to launch AFI FEST 2006 with the US premiere of BOBBY," said Jean Picker Firstenberg, AFI President and CEO. "This is a film that chronicles a powerful moment in American history - a moment that is also significant in the history of the city of Los Angeles."

Laurence Fishburne and Freddy Rodriguez star in Emilio Estevez's BOBBY.

Firstenberg added, "As AFI FEST celebrates its 20th year, we are especially proud to premiere this film here."

On November 1, remaining tickets to the BOBBY screening at the Chinese Theater will be sold via rush line on a first come, first serve, space available basis. Rush lines form approximately two hours before the posted screening time of 7:30 PM. Rush ticket sales are cash only do not include post-screening reception admission.

Following the screening, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel hosts a gala reception. The AFI FEST Opening Night Film and Gala are presented by Audi. Many of the cast are expected to attend.

The Opening Night Gala screening and reception are black-tie events.

The Story and Cast of BOBBY

Sharon Stone and William H. Macy star in Emilio Estevez's BOBBY.

By following 22 fictional characters on the fateful eve the Presidential hopeful was shot, director Emilio Estevez and the accomplished ensemble cast of BOBBY forge an intimate mosaic of an America as it careens toward shattering change.

As the characters navigate prejudice, injustice, chaos and their own complicated personal lives, they seek the last glimmering signs of hope in Kennedy's idealism.

And in exploring the diverse experiences of ordinary people, the film celebrates the spirit of an extraordinary man and servers as a snapshot of this emblematic time in history.

BOBBY's imaginative, stirring re-creation of that catalytic day begins just a few hours before Kennedy's assassination. Party-goers, performers, hotel employees, hotel guests and campaigners prepare for the big night. They include:

The Ambassador's retired doorman (Anthony Hopkins) who can't seem to leave his old haunt behind and plays chess in the grand lobby with fellow retiree Nelson (Harry Belafonte)
The hotel's current manager, Paul Ebbers (William H. Macy), a kindhearted but flawed businessman whose wife Miriam (Sharon Stone) is the hotel's hairdresser
The stifled hotel switchboard operator Angela (Heather Graham) who hopes her affair with Ebbers will lead to a promotion, to the dismay of her co-worker Patricia (Joy Bryant)
The hotel's kitchen workers, including the bigoted boss Timmons (Christian Slater), learned sous chef Edward Robinson (Laurence Fishburne)
Latino workers Jose (Freddy Rodriguez), who would rather be watching the night's pivotal Dodgers baseball game, and Miguel (Jacob Vargas)
Coffee shop waitress Susan (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), newly arrived from Ohio and hoping to become a big star.
Alcoholic singer Virginia Fallon (Demi Moore), who is scheduled to introduce the Senator at his California Primary party, and her frustrated husband Tim (Emillio Estevez)
Young bride-to-be (Lindsay Lohan) who is about to marry a young man (Elijah Wood) to save him from going to Vietnam
A depressed East Coast socialite (Martin Sheen) and his younger wife (Helen Hunt) who are in California on a strained second honeymoon
Kennedy campaign aides Wade and Dwayne (Joshua Jackson and Nick Cannon)
Persistent Czech journalist Lenka (Svetlana Metkina)
Novice volunteers Jimmy and Cooper (Brian Geraghty and Shia Lebeouf)
A drug dealer (Ashton Kutcher) who initiates Jimmy and Cooper them into the infamous acid trip experience
BOBBY is scheduled to be released nationwide in theaters on November 17, 2006.

About the Ambassador Hotel

Another BOBBY character plays a major role: the Ambassador Hotel

The legendary Los Angeles hotel's hallways, ballrooms, hair salon, back offices and kitchen connect the characters of the film. Director Emilio Estevez knew the hotel would be a vital location for the film.

But just as production kicked into gear, the hotel where this entire story took place was slated to be demolished.

Once one of LA's swankiest spots, the 500-room Ambassador Hotel was built on Wilshire Boulevard in 1921, designed by renowned architect Myron Hunt.

It quickly became an integral part of Hollywood's glamour, hosting such stars of the day as Jean Harlow, John Barrymore and Gloria Swanson. Even more so, the hotel's famed Coconut Grove Nightclub became a focal point of LA nightlife.

And in the 1930s and 1940s, the Ambassador attained fame as the setting of the Academy Awards.

It also regularly hosted US Presidents on their trips to the West Coast.

The Ambassador was still one of LA's finest, if fading, hotels in 1968 when it was irrevocably linked with Robert Kennedy's death.

And by 1989, the deteriorating building was so in need of massive refurbishments that it closed its doors.

In 2005 the historic structure was about to be gutted and transformed into a Los Angeles school building.

Fortunately, Estevez wrangled a special dispensation from the Los Angeles Unified School District to film for one week in the Ambassador before it would disappear forever.

Estevez captured the building's exteriors, hallway corridors and coffee shop before demolition.

"They were literally tearing down the walls around us as we shot," recalls Estevez. "It's quite challenging to keep your composure through that."

The lightning-fast shoot would give the film some of the authenticity Estevez was seeking, but now the creative team was also forced to rethink the film's design.

"The idea had always been to have the camera flow from one room in the Ambassador to the next and have the architecture of the hotel serve as a way of linking all the stories," Estevez explains.

"We never imagined we would have to move from location to location."

"Our Ambassador Hotel is actually made up of bits and pieces of buildings all over Los Angeles, all put together to give us the flow we wanted," continues Patti Podesta, the film's production designer who first came to the fore with her evocative designs of urban paranoia for Christopher Nolan's innovative thriller MEMENTO.

After scouring the city, a series of Ambassador-like locations were found including:

The historic Santa Anita Racetrack, which sports a period kitchen and pantry that resemble the Ambassador's
The 1920's-era Park Plaza Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard, the elegant, circa-1920s lobby of which was used for the scenes with Anthony Hopkins and Harry Belafonte
The Castle Green Apartments in Pasadena which provided the Ambassador's lush gardens
A country club in Agoura, where a few 60s-era cabanas were added to a pool strongly reminiscent of the Ambassador's.
The rest of the interiors were built at Santa Clarita Sound Stages, located North of Los Angeles. Here, one of the key sets created was the hair salon where Sharon Stones' Miriam encounters many of the film's characters in their most confessional moments.

"It's a little posh and a little Deco - a multi-faceted space where everything plays out in the reflection of mirrors," says Podesta.

Additional inspiration came from 60s feature films shot in the Ambassador, including THE GRADUATE.

"What has been going on with the United States over the period of the last 3 years ... the divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society ... whether it's between blacks and whites, between the poor and the more affluent, or between age groups or over the war in Vietnam ... we can start to work together again. We are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country. And I intend to make that my basis for running."
Robert F. Kennedy's final speech, June 5, 1968
by Eric Beteille
AFI FEST Daily News

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