• Renowned filmmaker Ken Burns speaks at Baylor

    Ken Burns at Baylor

    Noted filmmaker Ken Burns revealed the secret to his approach Monday to a full house in Waco Hall.

    “I have to admit that I have, in many ways, made the same film over and over again,” said Burns, the featured speaker at this year’s Beall-Russell Lecture. “Each production asks the same simple question: ‘Who are we?'”

    The drive to answer that question, Burns said, led to another part of his approach. While most of what we learn in history books and classes is told from the top-down — focused on the actions of governments, militaries, etc. — Burns starts at the bottom with his productions. What did the people experience? What did they think? What did they do?

    The Academy Award-nominated director used mostly examples from three of his PBS series — The Civil War, Baseball and Jazz — in describing his approach to filmmaking. Burns’ work has earned him 15 Emmy Awards, two Oscar nominations, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

    In his lecture, Burns quoted a historian who once said that “There are only three things America will be known for 2,000 years from now… the Constitution, jazz music, and baseball.” Three of Burns’ most famous series deal extensively with those three things. “What each of the three subjects daily remind us,” Burns added, “is that the genius of America is improvisation — our unique intersection of freedom and creativity.”

    In his hour-long appearance, Burns also discussed the popularity of his work despite our society’s ever-decreasing attention spans, how his mother’s death helped lead him to a career in filmmaking, and how important it is to hear from a variety of voices in all areas of life. (Read more about Burns’ appearance from the Waco Tribune-Herald and Baylor Lariat.)

    The Beall-Russell Lectures in the Humanities were established in 1982 with a donation from Virginia B. Ball to provide opportunities for Baylor students and faculty to learn from lecturers renowned in the humanities. Ball named the lecture series in honor of her mother, Mrs. John A. Beall, and Lily Russell, former dean of women at Baylor. Past lecturers have included poet Maya Angelou, author Amy Tan, and historian David McCullough.

    Sic ’em, Ken Burns!

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