Thought of the Day 7.29.12 Ken Burns

“Good history is a question of survival. Without any past, we will deprive ourselves of the defining impression of our being.”

–Ken Burns

His family, including his brother Ric Burns, who is also a documentary film maker, traveled often through out Europe and the North East US. They settled in Ann Arbor.  Burns enjoyed reading, especially history. For his 17th birthday he got an 8mm movie camera and made his first documentary (it was about a factory in Ann Arbor.)  He attended Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. He Graduated in 1975 and co-founded Florentine Films in 1976 with Roger Sherman, Buddy Squires and Larry Hott.

Burns’ work as a director, writer, producer, cinematographer, and film music director began in earnest in 1977  when he started work on a documentary based on the book The Great Bridge by David McCullough.  The result, Brooklyn Bridge (1981) brought Burns an Academy Award nomination. He followed that success with 23 (and counting) award winning documentaries most of which saw their debut on PBS.

His break out series was the 11 hour  The Civil War which first ran in 1990. Burns used over 16,000 photographs  and archival images. He had first person narratives (mostly letters) read by different actors, giving each historic figure their on personality in the film. He had live interviews with noted historians. And the finishing touch was the music — a mix of Civil War era tunes and the haunting theme song, Jay Unger’s Ashokan Farewell.  The Civil War won two Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, a Peabody Award,  a Producers Guild of America Award, a People’s Choice Award and a slew of other accolades.


Films by Ken Burns:

  • The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God
  • The Statue of Liberty (which also received an Oscar nomination)
  • Huey Long
  • The Congress
  • Thomas Hart Benton
  • The Civil War
  • Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio
  • Baseball
  • The West
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Lewis & Clark: the Journey of the Corps of Discovery
  • Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Not for Ourselves Alone: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
  • Jazz
  • Mark Twain
  • Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip
  • Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson
  • The War
  • The National Parks: America’s Best Idea
  • The 10th Inning
  • Prohibition
  • The Dust Bowl

Films in production include:

  • The Central Park Five
  • The Roosevelts
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Vietnam
  • Country Music
  • Ernest Hemingway

The Baltimore Sun’s Media Critic, David Zurawik, has called Burns “… not only the greatest documentarian of the day, but also the most influential filmmaker period. ”



About ritalovestowrite

Freelance writer, graphic designer, musician, foodie and Jane Austen enthusiast in Northern Baltimore County, Maryland. As a writer I enjoy both fiction and non fiction (food, travel and local interest stories.) As an advocate for the ARTS, one of my biggest passions is helping young people find a voice in all the performing arts. To that end it has been my honor to give one-on-one lessons to elementary, middle and high school students in graphic design and music. And as JANE-O I currently serve as the regional coordinator for JASNA Maryland and am working on a Regency/Federal cooking project. View all posts by ritalovestowrite

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