Ken Burns

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Ken Burns
Kenburns.jpg
Burns in September 2007
Born Kenneth Lauren Burns
(1953-07-29) July 29, 1953 (age 60)
Brooklyn, New York City, New York, U.S.
Alma mater Hampshire College
Years active 1981–present
Spouse(s) Amy Stechler Burns (1982–1993)
Julie Deborah Brown (2003–present)

Kenneth Lauren "Ken" Burns1 (born July 29, 1953)1 is an American director and producer of documentary films, known for his style of using archival footage and photographs. 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) and The Central Park Five (2012).

Burns' documentaries have been nominated for two Academy Awards and have won Emmy Awards, among other honors.

Early life and education

Burns was born on July 29, 1953, the son of Lyla Smith (née Tupper) Burns,2 a biotechnician,3 and Robert Kyle Burns, at the time a graduate student in cultural anthropology at Columbia University in Manhattan.2 According to his official website,4 Burns was born in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, though some sources give Ann Arbor, Michigan,5 as his birthplace and others, including The New York Times, give both Brooklyn and Ann Arbor.16 Ken Burns's brother is the documentary filmmaker Ric Burns.

Burns's academic family moved frequently, but his two best friends never left his side. Melanie Nolan and Josh Faulkner 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.3 Burns's mother was found to have breast cancer when Burns was 3 and died when he was 11,3 a circumstance that he said helped shape his career; he credited his father-in-law, a psychologist, with a single insight: "He told me that my whole work was an attempt to make people long gone come back alive."3 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 1971.7 Turning down reduced tuition at the University of Michigan, he attended the new 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.3 He worked in a record store to pay his tuition.3

Studying under photographers Jerome Liebling and Elaine Mayes and others, Burns earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in film studies and design8 in 1975. At 22, upon graduation, he and two college friends founded Florentine Films8 in Walpole, New Hampshire.46 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.8 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",6 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.

Career

Following another documentary, The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God (1984), Burns was Oscar-nominated again for The Statue of Liberty (1985).

Burns went on to a long, successful career directing and producing well-received television documentaries and documentary miniseries on subjects as diverse as politicians (Thomas Jefferson, 1997), sports (Baseball, 1994, updated with 10th Inning, 2010), music (Jazz, 2001), arts and letters (Thomas Hart Benton, 1988, Mark Twain, 2001), historical technology and mass media (Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio, 1991), environmentalism (The National Parks, 2009) and war (the 15-hour World War II documentary The War, 2007, and the 11-hour The Civil War, 1990, which All Media Guide says "many consider his 'chef d'oeuvre'").6

Personal life

In 1982, Burns married Amy Stechler, with whom he had two daughters, Sarah and Lily,8 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,9 whom he married on October 18, 2003.9

Politics

Burns is a longtime supporter of the Democratic Party, with almost $40,000 in political donations.10 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."1112 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.13 He said he had planned to be a regular contributor to Countdown with Keith Olbermann on Current TV.14

Awards and honors

Burns is the recipient of more than 20 honorary degrees.citation needed

The Civil War has received more than 40 major film and television awards,citation needed 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.15

In 2004, Burns received the S. Roger Horchow Award for Greatest Public Service by a Private Citizen, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.16

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.17

Style

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."18

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, Steve Jobs made a deal with Burns which got him Apple equipment, which Ken then gave to non-profit organizations.19

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."8

In a 2011 interview, Burns stated that he admires and is influenced by filmmaker Errol Morris.20

Filmography

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Listed with the name 'Kenneth Lauren Burns'.
Future releases
Under Burns's name only
  • The West (1996) (Executive producer; directed by Stephen Ives)
Short films
Film roles

References

  1. ^ a b c "Ken Burns Biography (1953-)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved 2011-08-19. 
  2. ^ a b "Ken Burns". Encyclopedia of World Biography via BookRags.com. Undated. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Walsh, Joan (undated). "Good Eye: The Interview With Ken Burns". San Francisco Focus. KQED via Online-Communicator.com. Archived from the original on September 22, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "Ken Burns". biography at FlorentineFilms.com. undated. 
  5. ^ "Ken Burns". Yahoo! Movies. Undated. 
  6. ^ a b c d 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..."
  7. ^ Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation, Ann Arbor Public Schools Alumni (accessed 29 October 2013).
  8. ^ a b c d e Edgerton, Gary (undated). "Burns, Ken: U.S. Documentary Film Maker". Archived from the original on June 29, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b "Weddings/Celebrations; Julie Brown, Ken Burns". The New York Times. October 19, 2003. Archived from the original on October 5, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Ken Burns's Federal Campaign Contribution Report". Newsmeat. Retrieved 2011-08-19. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ Rogers, David (26 August 2008). "Ailing Kennedy: 'The dream lives on'". Politico. Retrieved 19 June 2011. 
  13. ^ MacGillis, Alec (18 December 2007). "Ken Burns Compares Obama to Lincoln". The Washington Post. Retrieved 19 June 2011. 
  14. ^ Guthrie, Marisa (11 May 2011). "Michael Moore to Be a Contributor on Keith Olbermann's New Show". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 19 June 2011. 
  15. ^ "Hampshire College - The Ken Burns Wing". Kuhn Riddle Architects. 2010. Archived from the original on September 22, 2011. 
  16. ^ "National Winners | public service awards". Jefferson Awards.org. Retrieved 2013-12-25. 
  17. ^ "Ken Burns to Receive Steinbeck Award". SJSU News. Retrieved 2013-12-25. 
  18. ^ Kamiya, Gary (undated). "Shame and Glory: The West holds a mirror before the double face of a nation". Salon.com. 
  19. ^ Allen, Austin. "Big Think Interview with Ken Burns". Big Think. Retrieved April 23, 2014. 
  20. ^ 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. 
  21. ^ "Prohibition". PBS.org. 2011. Archived from the original on May 3, 2012. 
  22. ^ "Ken Burns Seeking Dustbowl Stories". OETA. Retrieved 2011-08-19. 
  23. ^ a b c "Introduction". FlorentineFilms.com. undated. 
  24. ^ The World Premiere of Yosemite: A Gathering of Spirit, Yosemite Conservancy Retrieved 2013-10-21.
  25. ^ a b c "Upcoming Films". thebetterangelssociety.org. 2011-10-07. 

External links

Interviews








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