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Ken Burns

For more than 30 years, WETA has proudly partnered with Ken Burns to bring landmark documentaries to the nation via public television.

This collaboration has produced many films including The Civil War, Jazz, Baseball, THE WAR, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea and The Dust Bowl. WETA is delighted to play an important role in bringing these films to a viewing audience nationwide.

Ken Burns and his colleagues at Florentine Films are an astonishingly creative and successful team, and it is WETA's great pleasure to work with them.

The following are several of Ken Burns's upcoming and recent productions.

Ken Burns and WETA: A Partnership for Over 30 Years

Watch acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns discuss his work and his decades-long partnership with WETA: 

Ward Chamberlain and Ken Burns

Ken Burns Discusses His History Working with WETA

Ken Burns recounts the origins of his working relationship with WETA, which began decades ago when he met former WETA CEO Ward Chamberlain.

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The War

Ken Burns on the Meaning of Duration

We live in an age of short attention spans and fast bursts of ever-present media but to filmmaker Ken Burns, all of us yearn for real meaning, which comes from longer form projects. Public broadcasting is uniquely able to present these sorts of deep, thoughtful programs.

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Ken Burns

Ken Burns on Why Public Broadcasting is Unique

According to filmmaker Ken Burns, the good thing about public broadcasting is that it exists with one foot in the marketplace and one foot proudly out of it. This unique arrangement allows he and other producers to create programs of the highest possible standards.

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Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

Ken Burns on Why Working With WETA Fits His Films

Each of Ken Burns's films attempts to answer questions about the American experience, so it is not a mistake that he found his production partner, WETA, in the nation's capital, where so much of our national history is stored in repositories like the Library of Congress and the National Archives.

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In Production

WETA's collaboration with Ken Burns continues with the following films currently in production.

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The Address

The boys during Morning Circle. (Courtesy of Lindsay Taylor Jackson)

Ken Burns tells the story of a tiny school in Vermont, the Greenwood School, where the students are encouraged to memorize and recite the Gettysburg Address. In its exploration of Greenwood, whose students, boys ages 11–17, all face a range of complex learning differences, the film also unlocks the history, context and importance of President Lincoln's powerful address.

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The Central Park Five

The Central Park Five

The story of the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. The film chronicles The Central Park Jogger case, for the first time from the perspective of these five teenagers whose lives were upended by this miscarriage of justice.

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The Dust Bowl

A two-part, four hour documentary, The Dust Bowl tells the story of the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history. The frenzied wheat boom of the “Great Plow-Up,” followed by a decade-long drought during the 1930s, nearly swept away the breadbasket of the nation.

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Prohibition

A three-part, five-and-a-half-hour series, Prohibition tells the story of the rise, rule, and fall of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the entire era it encompassed.

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The Tenth Inning

A follow-up to their landmark series Baseball, this documentary from Emmy Award-winning filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick continues the story of "America's Pastime," chronicling events from the 1990s to the present day.

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The National Parks: America's Best Idea

This six-part documentary series chronicles the human story behind the creation of America's national parks. 

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The War

This landmark film is the story of the Second World War through the personal accounts of a handful of men and women from four American towns. The war touched the lives of every family on every street in in every town in America and demonstrated that in extraordinary times, there are no ordinary lives.

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Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson – the first African-American Heavyweight Champion of the World, whose dominance over his white opponents spurred furious debates and race riots in the early 20th century – is portrayed in this powerful film.

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Ken Burns American Stories

The Ken Burns American Stories collection of eight films includes Brooklyn Bridge, The Congress, Huey Long, The Shakers, The Statue of Liberty and Thomas Hart Benton.

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Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip

In the spring of 1903, Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson set off from San Francisco in a 20-horsepower Winton touring car hoping to become the first person to cross the United States in the new-fangled "horseless carriage." This was America's first transcontinental road trip, and like all road trips that would follow it included the usual mix of breakdowns, inedible meals and uncomfortable beds, getting lost and enduring bad weather – and having a truly unforgettable experience crossing the nation's vast landscape.

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Mark Twain

This four-hour portrait of one of America's funniest and most popular writers depicts the life and writings of Mark Twain. Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns notes that the film is actually two stories in one, "a dual biography" divided between Samuel Clemens, the author's birth name, and Mark Twain, the name he wrote by.

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Jazz

This ten-part film explores in detail the culture, politics and dreams that gave birth to jazz music, and follows this most American of art forms from its origins in blues and ragtime through swing, bebop and fusion.

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Other Films by Ken Burns

Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (1999)

Winner of the prestigious Peabody Award, this dual biography tells the story of the two women who almost single-handedly created and spearheaded the women's rights movement in America. 

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Frank Lloyd Wright (1998)

For more than 70 years, Frank Lloyd Wright showed his countrymen new ways to build their homes and see the world around them. He created some of the most monumental, and some of the most intimate spaces in America. This film tells the riveting story of America's foremost architectural genius.

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Thomas Jefferson (1997)

This film explores the contradictions in the man who was revered as the author of the most sacred document in American history and condemned as a lifelong owner of slaves. Thomas Jefferson became vice president in 1797 and the third U.S. president in 1801. His Louisiana Purchase doubled the nation's size, but he faced controversy and scandal, finally retiring to his beloved Monticello in 1809. His last years were spent founding the University of Virginia.

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Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (1997)

Sent by President Thomas Jefferson to find the fabled Northwest Passage, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the most courageous and important expedition in U.S. history. The film is a journey across a breathtaking landscape that explores both the history – and the promise – of America.

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The West (1996)

This film is the story of one of the great crossroads in human history, a place where, tragically and heroically, the best of us met the worst of us and nothing was left unchanged. The film captures the grandeur of the West and the energy of its people, and probes the conflicting visions and competing values that made an American nation on this vast land. 

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Baseball (1994)

The story of baseball is the story of America. This film covers the history of baseball from the 1840's to the present. Through the extensive use of archival photographs and newsreel footage, baseball is shown as a mirror of our larger society. The portrayal of the game's greatest heroes revives the hopes and dreams that have shaped our national character. The retelling of the game's greatest moments rekindles the joys and sorrows that have made baseball a cherished part of our heritage.

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Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio (1992)

For 50 years, radio dominated the airwaves and the American consciousness as the first "mass medium." In this film, Ken Burns examines the lives of three extraordinary men who shared the primary responsibility for this invention and its early success, and whose genius, friendship, rivalry and enmity interacted in tragic ways.

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The Civil War (1990)

Ken Burns' epic documentary brings to life America's most destructive – and defining – conflict. The Civil War is the saga of celebrated generals and ordinary soldiers, a heroic and transcendent president and a country that had to divide itself in two in order to become one.

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