Ken Burns: The Art of the Interview
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1953, Ken Burns is a Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker whose career spans over 30 years. His first film, "Brooklyn Bridge," was nominated for an Academy Award in 1981. He was the director, producer, co-writer, chief cinematographer, music director, and executive producer of the groundbreaking documentary "The Civil War," the highest-rated series in the history of American public television. His other major films include "Baseball," "The West," "Jazz," and "The War." His most recent film, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," premiered on PBS in 2009.
Question: What’s the best interview question you’ve ever asked for a film?\r\n
Ken Burns: The key is listening. A lot of people come with a set of questions and then they can’t get off that set of questions if they hear something new that you could follow a tangent and they might give you something and I think the most poignant time occurs when you’re talking to someone who experienced war because that’s life at paradoxically at its height. When your life is most threatened, when violent death is possible at any second life is vivified, lived at a level we don’t experience even in sex or in love or in anything that our normal life delivers and so war is one of those paradoxical human experiences that delivers us a sense of life lived at its top and so that’s what we’re trying to get out of people that we interview about wars.\r\n
And I remember in our film about the Second World War called "The War," I asked a gentleman who was sort of holding me at arm’s length --understandably, because his experience had been so bad -- I suddenly said to this person who was no longer 85 or 86 years old, but back to being 19 years old, I just said… I didn’t even ask a question. I just said, “You saw bad things.” And all of the sudden the lip started to quiver and the cheek twitched and he began to tell me not the sort of practiced, defended view of the war, but something much more complicated, something that revealed its horror. He had watched men die. He had killed men. He had seen it firsthand and suddenly it was like passing through some door, some portal into his life and his experience that I feel privileged, but only because I watched the potential emerging of a 19 year-old soldier in France in 1944, in 1945, suddenly willing perhaps for the first time to share some of that horrible, gruesome thing that we need to know about if we’re going to know anything about the human condition.
Recorded November 25, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen
The most effective question he ever asked a subject from behind the camera wasn’t a question at all.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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