Posted by: ckckred | January 11, 2012

Meeting Ken Burns: The Legendary Documentary Filmmakers Shares His Thoughts

On Sunday, I met Ken Burns, who was discussing about American history, his films, and PBS.  For those readers who are unaware of Ken Burns’ work, he is like the Spielberg or Scorsese of documentary filmmaking.

My fascination with Burns has to do with his love for history.  History is my favorite subject because I’m interested in past findings and compare it today.  Many of Ken Burns’ films have to do with American history, for example he has made movies on the Civil War, World War II, the Vietnam War, baseball, the Brooklyn Bridge, and most recently on the Prohibition of the 20s.

Burns talked about his upcoming film on the Roosevelts, and I previewed the overture.  The actual film will be split from a 14 hour cut, and the movie is still not finished.  From what I have seen, it is sure to be good.

Mr. Burns also discussed about the decline of history classes in schools.  Many schools these days deem history to be unimportant and kick it out of the curriculum.  It’s gotten so bad, that Ken Burns said “many graduates these days think we fought with the German against the Russians in World War II.”

He also discussed about his non-profit company Better Angels, inspired from a quote by Abraham Lincoln.  Better Angels funds Ken Burns’ films, and he mentioned he was having trouble putting his films on PBS due to the channel’s budget cuts.

When he was asked about contemporary America compared to the past, Burns said, “until we started killing animals from the zoo to feed people (like during the Great Depression), our current recession isn’t that large of a bump.”

I asked Ken Burns what advice he had for future documentary filmmakers, and he said that there’s no clear path.  For any other job, there’s a step-by-step process, but for documentary filmmaking there is no clear path.  He told me to find what interests you, and make a documentary from that.

My appreciation for Burns has increased since then, and I cannot wait for any of his future films.



  1. Ken Burns’ Baseball Doc series was so good. I used to fall asleep to it when I was a kid. Nothing better than seeing the giants of the American Pasttime right before you go to bed.

    • He’s a great director who’s often very under appreciated. I can’t wait to see his new documentary on the Roosevelts.

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