Ken Burns Documents America
Acclaimed filmmaker shares his experiences
Ken Burns' film The War was released on Blu-Ray on Tuesday, May 15. (Photo courtesy Paramount)
If you're a fan of history or documentaries, you've probably heard of Ken Burns. He's an award-winning documentarian and director who has produced such celebrated films as National Parks: America's Best Idea, Baseball, and The Civil War. His work is so popular, in fact, that he has a video editing technique named after him.
One of Burns' most recent films, The War, first aired on PBS in 2007 and was released on Blu-Ray on Tuesday. It's a seven-part documentary about everyday Americans who become heroes fighting in World War II.
From beginning to end, The War took seven-and-a-half years to make. Approximately 600 veterans were interviewed to get an insight on how World War II affected everyday people. The film focuses on the personal stories of more than 40 soldiers and citizens from four small American towns: Mobile, Alabama; Luverne, Minnesota; Sacramento, California; and Waterbury, Connecticut.
"They were some of the most horrible and wonderful years of my life," Burns tells the Kids Press Corps. "Horrible because we had to get into the stuff of war, which is the worst of human beings, and most wonderful because we met some extraordinarily brave and courageous human beings who were willing to share their stories with us."
When he was a kid, Burns says he wanted to be an explorer, archaeologist, astronaut, or soldier. But when he was 12 years old, he discovered he wanted to make movies.
"I watched my dad cry at a movie that he was showing me," Burns remembers. "We stayed up really late on a school night way passed my bedtime, and he showed me a movie and in the middle of it he started crying. And I instantly understood the power of movies and what an important force it could be for good, for emotion. I remember vowing to myself I wanted to be a filmmaker."
Burns went on to make some of the most important and acclaimed documentaries about America. He has won seven Emmy Awards and has been recognized as an important historian and documentarian. But first and foremost he considers himself a filmmaker. "I'm an avid storyteller. That's what I'm interested in."
He has focused on telling stories from American history and he says he doesn't plan on doing anything different. Part of the reason is gets a lot of enjoyment from researching and constructing his films.
"I have three favorite parts [of my job]," he says. "One is being in an archive and finding a picture and filming it and realizing it’s going to be in the final film. Another is being in the editing room and adding something or extracting something or rearranging or rewriting. All films are written in the editing room. And I love talking about it, I love being a kind of evangelist, a preacher about what we’ve learned."
There are probably kids right now thinking that they want to make movies or become a documentarian. If you're one of them and want to follow in his footsteps, Burns has some words of wisdom for you.
"The biggest messages are the ones that apply to anything," he says. "You have to be a good person and know who you are and what you want to do and know what you have to say. You have to persevere, you have to work hard. Real success comes from hard work."
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