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Ken Burns on the “complicated history” of his upcoming Revolutionary War project, debunking the myths of 1776 and revisiting George Washington

Ken Burns on the “complicated history” of his upcoming Revolutionary War project, debunking the myths of 1776 and revisiting George Washington
Ken Burns on the “complicated history” of his upcoming Revolutionary War project, debunking the myths of 1776 and revisiting George Washington

Ken Burns, whose fifty years of filmmaking have produced detailed portraits of presidents, wars, buffalo and more, is about to take on the political lightning bolt of the 21st century with the American Revolution.

His six-part, twelve-hour Revolutionary War project, which he spent six years working on, is expected to be released in 2025. While Burns faced rejection for his ground-breaking historical work, Civil warIn 1990, most responses came by US mail. Today, online messages flow freely across social media platforms and the storm rages on Project 1619 and other revisionist accounts of the birth of the nation suggest that Burns may be next.

“We call it ball and bat,” Burns said when asked if he expected objections from right-wing viewers. The Revolutionary Era offers “a very complicated history” in contrast to the sanitized, long-held images of a group of founders who established the country at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, which Burns says “wasn’t true from the beginning. . . . “

Burns made the comments during an hour-long conversation at the Paley Center for Media, deftly moderated by a veteran Los Angeles Times Media reporter and television historian Stephen Battaglio. Paula Kerger, former CEO of PBS, also attended.

In putting together the series’ storylines, Burns said he was struck by the “truly miraculous” fact that “the people who won the war now look just like America.” The US Army included a number of Native Americans, freed blacks, enslaved Americans, immigrants from Germany and Ireland, ex-convicts and women. In the 18th century, Burns said, North America was “as diverse a continent as one can imagine.”

As for George Washington, Burns said, “He’s got a lot of problems, hasn’t he?” Still, he captured a key moment when an African-American scientist told the camera, “I really don’t believe in the ‘big man theory,’ but I do “I really don’t think we’d be together without him .” You might be waiting with bated breath to catch me doing something you think violates the Founding Fathers’ code of perfection, but this is a really good time.

A central theme of the discussion was how the media landscape has made collective viewing outside of NFL football games a rare occurrence.

Burns and Kerger both expressed the belief that people will continue to want a shared viewing experience. “Just like we want to stand together at a ball game and sing the national anthem or sing in the choir, we also want to do something together,” Burns said. “There will be no end to this. The demands on television are currently changing.”

A new force in society makes Burns much less optimistic: social media. “People talk about ‘social media’. Social media is not. … Have you ever been in a room with teenagers and everyone was on their phones? They don’t even talk to each other – or maybe they do, but through text messages. There is something devilishly insidious about such a thing.”

Given the filmmaker’s reluctance to embrace digital technology, Kerger said with a laugh, “It was painful to get Ken to stream his shows. … He wasn’t sure.”

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History 2014 marked the first time one of his PBS projects was released on streaming as a full series on the same night of its premiere. “We looked at the numbers and it was so interesting because there was a huge crowd the first night,” Kerger recalled. “You could see where people were coming into the streams and some of them were returning to the broadcast. They met with their friends. … As much as we miss the fact that everyone had to watch together at 8 p.m., there are other ways to meet people where they are.”

Source: Deadline

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