Ric Burns

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Ric Burns
Brian Keane with Director Ric Burns.jpg
Ric Burns (left) with Brian Keane (1995)
Born1955 (age 64–65)
OccupationFilmmaker, writer

Ric Burns (born 1955) is an American documentary filmmaker and writer. He has written, directed and produced historical documentaries since the 1990s, beginning with his collaboration on the celebrated PBS series The Civil War (1990), which he produced with his older brother Ken Burns and wrote with Geoffrey Ward.


Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Burns moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan at an early age, and attended Columbia University and Cambridge University, breaking from his graduate work to join his brother on the production of the Civil War series. Since founding Steeplechase Films in 1989, he has directed several programs for WGBH Boston's American Experience, including Coney Island (1991). He also wrote and directed The Donner Party (1992).

In 1995, Burns wrote, directed, and co-produced The Way West. In April 2002, Burns completed Ansel Adams, a co-production of Steeplechase Films and Sierra Club Productions for American Experience. Since 2018, Burns has served as a trustee of the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, NC.

New York: A Documentary Film[edit]

Burns is probably best known for his series New York: A Documentary Film, which premiered nationally on PBS. The eight-part, seventeen-and-a-half-hour film chronicles the city's rise from a tiny Dutch trading post through its continuing preeminence as an economic and cultural capital of the world.

The first five episodes of New York were broadcast in November 1999; the sixth and seventh episodes in the fall of 2001; and the eighth episode in September 2003. There will be a ninth episode, chronicling New York since the events of September 11, 2001.[1]

More recent films[edit]

Recently completed projects include The Chinese Exclusion Act (2018), a deeply American story – about immigration and national identity, civil rights and human justice; about how we define who can be an American, and what being an American means – the film examines the economic, cultural, social, legal, racial and political dimensions of the law; the forces and events that gave rise to it; and the effect it has had, and continues to have, on American culture and identity.

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life (2019) explores the riveting and profoundly moving life and work of this unique figure — an old-fashioned polymath and natural historian of the 19th century sort - who redefined our 21st century understanding of brain and mind. The film is based in part on footage shot in the months before he died – including more than eighty hours with Sacks himself, his partner, Billy Hayes, and some of his closest friends, colleagues and family members – as he grappled with the meaning of his life, with life itself, and his impending death with a spellbinding candor, power and humanity.

Selected filmography[edit]


  • The companion book to the Civil War series (with Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns)
  • New York: An Illustrated History (with James Sanders and Lisa Ades)

Selected list of awards and nominations[edit]


External links[edit]