Hi everyone, Marc Kohlman here with the latest in what’s new in the English Department. Today I want to tell you all about a cool lecture I went to last Tuesday, a lecture that illustrates exactly why going to Stevenson is so exciting. The visiting speaker, part of the Stevenson Speaker Series, was none other than acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns!
For those who don’t know him, allow me to fill in the background. For over thirty-five years, Burns has directed American history films that are remarkably honest appraisals of the past, often showing how we can be our own worst enemy. He’s received twenty-five honorary degrees and is a sought-after public speaker. Burns was born in Brooklyn, New York, and graduated from the Amherst, Massachusetts Hampshire College. Shortly after graduating, Burns began his filmmaking career, and his first film, “Brooklyn Bridge,” was nominated for an Academy Award! During the 1980s, he directed seven more award-winning films.
One of Burns most famous films (and a favorite of mine) is his PBS series “The Civil War.” Burns treated that docudrama almost as if it were a Hollywood blockbuster. Watching it in the 8th grade was incredible for me and allowed me to understand the war far better than what I might have learned from a history textbook. The series ended up as the highest-rated public television series ever, watched by more than forty million people when it premiered in 1990!
In his lecture, he said he has never backed down from a project or changed his films under pressure, a record I admire deeply. What astonishes me most though is the tremendous attention to detail in each of his film projects. In his lecture, Burns described his hands-on experiences, touching (with gloves) an original draft of the Declaration of Independence and reading through the original Lewis & Clark journals! Amazing, huh?
Burns’ last project was a seven-part series called “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” but he is currently working on five other upcoming films on subjects like the Vietnam War, Jackie Robinson and the history of country music. No doubt they’ll be amazing!
Alright ladies and gentlemen, you now know why Ken Burns films are incredibly popular and educational. I recommend starting with his series on the Civil War. Any history buffs out there will certainly want to check out his movies.
For the English Department, I’m Marc Kohlman. See you soon!