Burnsy

Rare is the anticipated Friday night spent seated next to this motliest of crews:

  • Mom;
  • Mom’s super duper Republican, ultra-conservative Sunday school teacher;
  • Mom’s liberal, neighboring friend and photographer;
  • Bella;
  • Bella’s Hot Topic-loving, fashionably nerdy, film club BFF;
  • Russell, who’s got to be up the next morning at 6 a.m.;
  • Protestors.

This is what happens when Ken Burns comes to town.

Famous for his decades’ worth of stylized, American documentaries about the subjects and characters who’ve molded our culture, Burns was lauded by noted historian Stephen Ambrose, who said, “More Americans get their history from Ken Burns than any other source.” Ken Burns has so efficiently worked his way into my subconscious that there’ve been times when I’ve realized I was thinking in Keith David’s voice…about whatever I was doing at the moment…and in third person. Ken’s a Jedi.

Of course, every Jedi has to have his battles. After numerous years spent whipping out documentaries many reviews charged as more focused on the persecutions of different races by white Americans rather than what the critics deemed more relevant to subject matter, Burns recently was labeled oppositely as a racist for the interview selection of his 2007 series about World War II. According to Burns, the filming team reported complete lack of involvement and response from Hispanic veterans, and, rather than seeking further cooperation, filmed the candidates who did respond. The outcome generated a massive outcry in the Mexican community for all public funding to be revoked from future filming. Burns responded by inviting empathetic, fellow filmmaker Hector Galan to film thirty minutes of additional footage, which focused on Latino involvement in the war. He defended the 900-minute documentary:

“We were not seeking any specific ethnic group. We were looking for universal experiences about battle. We spent five years in the four towns. We […] advertised our presence. Everyone who was possibly within our earshot knew we were there, and in the course of it not a single Hispanic came forward, nor did a single WAC or WAV, nor did a Submariner, nor did a Filipino-American or a German-American, who had a difficult experience — a much larger, in fact, one of the largest ethnic groups. We weren’t looking to tell every story. We wished to have […] forty people, really ten people, who would stand in for all the experiences. The Hispanic veterans who we found said, ‘We weren’t Hispanic; we were American.’ “

The New York Public Library hosted a fantastic, in depth conversation between brainiac storyteller Professor Robert Stone and Burns on FORA.tv. In the segment, Burns answers questions posed by Stone and the audience regarding everything from his musical selection processes to accusations of racism. If you’re not joining my multifarious army this evening, you should definitely check out the following video (if for no other reason than it took me forever to upload the monster in its entirety, heh).

Although tickets for the north Texan event were completely swiped up earlier this week, KERA is filming the onstage discussion with Think moderator Krys Boyd. Information about the nationally televised broadcast (and how to snag a no-show seat) available here.

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