Sunday, June 24, 2007

Ken Burns Previews "The War"

"There are no ordinary lives," according to Ken Burns, who focuses on individuals to tell his stories about historical events. In his new documentary series The War, he and the crew of Florentine Films anchor the story of World War II on the experiences of people they met in four American towns: Sacramento, California; Mobile, Alabama; Waterbury, Connecticut; and Luverne, Minnesota. Like his series on the civil war, baseball, and jazz, he weaves together interviews, still photos, archival film, and period music in this production, which will premiere on PBS in late September.

Burns said that many people have requested that he make a series on World War II, but he had resisted for years. He changed his mind for two reasons. First, he read seven years ago that a thousand WWII veterans were dying every day, and he realized that many of their stories were being lost. Also, he read in the late 1990s that a poll of high school graduates revealed that many thought the U.S. fought with Germany against the Russia in the war. Being interested in the power of history, he had to address these problems.

Burns admitted that he keeps making the same film over and over. The question he is always asking is "Who are we?" He uses the same techniques and always combs libraries and archives for "the grist of all the films." He and his researchers visited hundreds of libraries in the making of The War.

I was impressed by the eloquence of Burn's speech, which reflects on his skill as a writer. I was also impressed by the seven segments of the documentary series that he previewed for us. Burns has gone far beyond the sanitized footage of the war that we normally see. The series will have to have viewer warnings.

I know what I will be doing with fourteen and a half hours this fall.

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