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Culture & Religion

Stories of the American Land

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has tackled a wide variety of subjects, from jazz to baseball to war, but all have one thing in common: they cut somehow to the heart of the American story. In an interview with Big Think, Burns defended the claim made in the subtitle of his latest film, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” arguing that the story of our land is also the story of our people.

Throughout the conversation, Burns surveyed the full range of his storied career, beginning with his struggle as a young filmmaker to pitch his first documentary, “Brooklyn Bridge.” He discussed not only the enduring American themes of “race and space” that unite his films, but also the groundbreaking techniques that distinguish them, including the “Ken Burns Effect” familiar to millions of users of Apple software. More contentiously, he argued that while digital software may have put filmmaking technologies in the hands of the masses, the idea that it makes us all filmmakers—let alone artists—”is bullshit.”


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