Burns in September 2007
|Born||Kenneth Lauren Burns
July 29, 1953
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Alma mater||Hampshire College|
|Spouse(s)||Amy Stechler Burns (1982–1993)
Julie Deborah Brown (2003–present)
Kenneth Lauren "Ken" Burns (born July 29, 1953) is an American filmmaker, known for his style of using archival footage and photographs in documentary films. His most widely known documentaries are The Civil War (1990), Baseball (1994), Jazz (2001), The War (2007), The National Parks: America's Best Idea (2009), Prohibition (2011), The Central Park Five (2012), and The Roosevelts (2014).
Early life and education
Burns was born on July 29, 1953 in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Lyla Smith (née Tupper) Burns, a biotechnician, and Robert Kyle Burns, at the time a graduate student in cultural anthropology at Columbia University in Manhattan. According to his official website, Ken Burns's brother is the documentary filmmaker Ric Burns. He is a distant relative of poet Robert Burns.
Burns's academic family moved frequently, but his best friend never left his side. Melanie Nolan supported Burns along his long road to success. Among places they called home were Saint-Véran, France; Newark, Delaware; and Ann Arbor, where his father taught at the University of Michigan. Burns's mother was found to have breast cancer when Burns was 3 and died when he was 11, a circumstance that he said helped shape his career; he credited his father-in-law, a psychologist, with a signal insight: "He told me that my whole work was an attempt to make people long gone come back alive." Well-read as a child, he absorbed the family encyclopedia, preferring history to fiction. Upon receiving an 8 mm film movie camera for his 17th birthday, he shot a documentary about an Ann Arbor factory. He graduated from Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor in 1971. Turning down reduced tuition at the University of Michigan, he attended Hampshire College, an alternative school in Amherst, Massachusetts, where students are graded through narrative evaluations rather than letter grades and where students create self-directed academic concentrations instead of choosing a traditional major. He worked in a record store to pay his tuition.
At 22, upon graduation, he and two college friends founded Florentine Films in Walpole, New Hampshire. He worked as a cinematographer for the BBC, Italian television, and others, and in 1977, after having completed some documentary short films, he began work on adapting David McCullough's book The Great Bridge, about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Developing a signature style of documentary filmmaking in which he "adopted the technique of cutting rapidly from one still picture to another in a fluid, linear fashion [and] then pepped up the visuals with 'first hand' narration gleaned from contemporary writings and recited by top stage and screen actors", he made the feature documentary Brooklyn Bridge (1981), which earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary and ran on PBS in the United States.
Burns went on to a long, successful career directing and producing well-received television documentaries and documentary miniseries on subjects as diverse as arts and letters (Thomas Hart Benton, 1988), mass media (Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio, 1991), sports (Baseball, 1994, updated with 10th Inning, 2010), politicians (Thomas Jefferson, 1997), music (Jazz, 2001), literature (Mark Twain, 2001), war (the 15-hour World War II documentary The War, 2007), environmentalism (The National Parks, 2009) and the 11-hour The Civil War, 1990, which All Media Guide says "many consider his 'chef d'oeuvre'").
In 1982, Burns married Amy Stechler, with whom he had two daughters, Sarah and Lily, born circa 1983 and 1987, respectively; the marriage ended in divorce. As of 2011, Burns resides in Walpole, New Hampshire, with his second wife, Julie Deborah Brown, whom he married on October 18, 2003.
In 2014 Burns appeared in Henry Louis Gates' Finding Your Roots where he found out the startling news of being a descendant of a slave owner from the South and Loyalists, Americans who were loyal to Great Britain and fled to Canada after the Revolutionary War.
Burns is a longtime supporter of the Democratic Party, with almost $40,000 in political donations. In 2008, the Democratic National Committee chose Burns to produce the introductory video for Senator Edward Kennedy's August 2008 speech to the Democratic National Convention, a video described by Politico as a "Burns-crafted tribute casting him [Kennedy] as the modern Ulysses bringing his party home to port." In August 2009, Kennedy died, and Burns produced a short eulogy video at his funeral. In endorsing Barack Obama for the U.S. presidency in December 2007, Burns compared Obama to Abraham Lincoln. He said he had planned to be a regular contributor to Countdown with Keith Olbermann on Current TV.
Awards and honors
- 1982 nomination, Academy Award for Documentary Feature: Brooklyn Bridge (1981);
- 1986 nomination, Academy Award for Documentary Feature: The Statue of Liberty (1985);
- 1995 Emmy Award for Outstanding Informational Series: Baseball (1994);
- 2010 Emmy Award for Outstanding Non-fiction Series: The National Parks: America's Best Idea (2009).
Burns is the recipient of more than 20 honorary degrees.
The Civil War has received more than 40 major film and television awards, including two Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, the Producer of the Year Award from the Producers Guild of America, a People's Choice Award, a Peabody Award, a duPont-Columbia Award, a D. W. Griffith Award, and the $50,000 Lincoln Prize.
As of 2010, there is a Ken Burns Wing at the Jerome Liebling Center for Film, Photography and Video at Hampshire College.
In 2013, Burns received the John Steinbeck Award, an award presented annually by Steinbeck's eldest son, Thomas, in collaboration with the John Steinbeck Family Foundation, San Jose State University, and The National Steinbeck Center.
Burns frequently incorporates simple musical leitmotifs or melodies. For example, The Civil War features a distinctive violin melody throughout, "Ashokan Farewell", which was performed for the film by its composer, fiddler Jay Ungar. One critic noted, "One of the most memorable things about The Civil War was its haunting, repeated violin melody, whose thin, yearning notes seemed somehow to sum up all the pathos of that great struggle."
Burns often gives life to still photographs by slowly zooming in on subjects of interest and panning from one subject to another. For example, in a photograph of a baseball team, he might slowly pan across the faces of the players and come to rest on the player who is the subject of the narrator. This technique, possible in many professional and home software applications, is termed "The Ken Burns effect" in Apple's iPhoto, iMovie and Final Cut Pro X software applications. Burns stated in a 2009 interview that he initially declined to have his name associated with the software because of his stance to refuse commercial endorsements. However, Apple chief Steve Jobs negotiated to give Burns Apple equipment, which Burns donated to nonprofit organizations.
As a museum retrospective noted, "His PBS specials [are] strikingly out of step with the visual pyrotechnics and frenetic pacing of most reality-based TV programming, relying instead on techniques that are literally decades old, although Burns reintegrates these constituent elements into a wholly new and highly complex textual arrangement."
- Brooklyn Bridge (1981)[a]
- The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God (1984)[a]
- The Statue of Liberty (1985)[a]
- Huey Long (1985)[a]
- The Congress (1988)[a]
- Thomas Hart Benton (1988)[a]
- The Civil War (1990)[a]
- Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio (1991)
- Baseball (1994), updated with The Tenth Inning (2010)
- The West (1996)
- Thomas Jefferson (1997)
- Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (1997)
- Frank Lloyd Wright (1998)
- Not For Ourselves Alone: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (1999)
- Jazz (2001)
- Mark Twain (2001)
- Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip (2003)
- Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (2005)
- The War (2007)
- The National Parks: America's Best Idea (2009)
- Prohibition, with Lynn Novick (2011)
- The Dust Bowl (2012)
- The Central Park Five (2012)
- Yosemite: A Gathering of Spirit (2013)
- The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (2014)
- Listed as 'Kenneth Lauren Burns'.
- Future releases
- Jackie Robinson (2016)
- Vietnam (2017)
- Country Music (2018)* Ernest Hemingway (2019)
- Stand-up Comedy (TBA)
- Ken Burns - Executive producer
- The West (1996) (directed by Stephen Ives)
- Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies (2015) (directed by Barak Goodman)
- Short films
- Film roles
- Gettysburg (1993)—Hancock's staff officer
- "Ken Burns Biography (1953-)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved 2011-08-19.
- "Ken Burns". Encyclopedia of World Biography via BookRags.com. n.d.
- Walsh, Joan (n.d.). "Good Eye: The Interview With Ken Burns". San Francisco Focus. KQED via Online-Communicator.com. Archived from the original on September 22, 2011.
- "Ken Burns". biography at FlorentineFilms.com. n.d.
- Stated on Finding Your Roots, PBS, October 7, 2014
- "Studio360: Nerding Out with Ken Burns, 13:50".
- Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation, Ann Arbor Public Schools Alumni (accessed 29 October 2013).
- Edgerton, Gary (n.d.). "Burns, Ken: U.S. Documentary Film Maker". The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Archived from the original on June 29, 2011.
- Erickson, Hal. "Ken Burns biography". All Media Guide / Baseline / The New York Times. Retrieved September 22, 2011.. This single source gives two birthplaces. Under the header list, it reads "Birthplace: Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA." In the prose biography, it reads "Brooklyn-born Ken Burns..."
- "Weddings/Celebrations; Julie Brown, Ken Burns". The New York Times. October 19, 2003. Archived from the original on October 5, 2011.
- "Ken Burns's Federal Campaign Contribution Report". Newsmeat. Retrieved 2011-08-19.
- M.E. Sprengelmeyer (August 24, 2008). "Filmmaker Ken Burns behind documentary tribute to Sen. Ted Kennedy". Rocky Mountain News. Archived from the original on May 3, 2012. Retrieved 2009-08-26.
- Rogers, David (26 August 2008). "Ailing Kennedy: 'The dream lives on'". Politico. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
- MacGillis, Alec (18 December 2007). "Ken Burns Compares Obama to Lincoln". The Washington Post. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
- Guthrie, Marisa (11 May 2011). "Michael Moore to Be a Contributor on Keith Olbermann's New Show". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
- "Hampshire College - The Ken Burns Wing". Kuhn Riddle Architects. 2010. Archived from the original on September 22, 2011.
- "National Winners | public service awards". Jefferson Awards.org. Retrieved 2013-12-25.
- "Ken Burns to Receive Steinbeck Award". SJSU News. Retrieved 2013-12-25.
- Kamiya, Gary (n.d.). "Shame and Glory: The West holds a mirror before the double face of a nation". Salon.com.
- Allen, Austin. "Big Think Interview with Ken Burns". Big Think. Retrieved April 23, 2014.
- Bragg, Meredith; Gillespie, Nick (October 3, 2011). "Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a 'Yellow-Dog Democrat,' & Missing Walter Cronkite". Reason. Archived from the original on May 3, 2012.
- "Prohibition". PBS.org. 2011. Archived from the original on May 3, 2012.
- "Ken Burns Seeking Dustbowl Stories". OETA. Retrieved 2011-08-19.
- "Introduction". FlorentineFilms.com. n.d.
- The World Premiere of Yosemite: A Gathering of Spirit, Yosemite Conservancy Retrieved 2013-10-21.
- Moore, Frazier (September 10, 2014). "PBS' 'The Roosevelts' portrays an epic threesome". AP News. Retrieved September 10, 2014.
- "Upcoming Films". The Better Angels Society. Retrieved June 16, 2015.
- Genzlinger, Neil (March 27, 2015). "Review: In ‘Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,’ Battling an Opportunistic Killer". New York Times. Retrieved March 31, 2015.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ken Burns.|
- Florentine Films—Ken Burns's production company
- Ken Burns at AllMovie
- Ken Burns at the Internet Movie Database
- Ken Burns on Twitter
- Ken Burns on PBS
- Ken Burns bibliography
- Ken Burns at Library of Congress Authorities — with 54 catalog records
- Ken Burns interviewed on Conversations from Penn State
- Ken Burns: The Interview with Blue Ridge County Magazine
- "Ken Burns". WriteTV.org, The Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers, Oklahoma State University–Tulsa. n.d.
- Ken Burns interview video at the Archive of American Television