Junior Class Attends Q&A by Famous Filmmaker Ken Burns

By Kathryn Ortenzio, Staff Writer

The junior class travelled to Brookdale Community College to attend an interview with famous American filmmaker Ken Burns on Oct. 27. Burns, one of the most influential documentarians today, honed in on important discussion topics that were beneficial to the juniors’ US History education during his interview with Brookdale history professor Jess Levine.

“[Ken Burns’] most engaging aspect is the real and almost frightening images he includes,” junior Katie Venezia said about one of his most famous documentaries, Civil War. “They are dramatic and they grab my attention and allow me to understand the true horrors of the Civil War rather than just hearing about them.”

Burns began the interview with a short backstory of his life and what sparked his interest in creating documentaries; when watching movies with his father, the emotions he felt himself and witnessed his father experiencing made him want to become a storyteller.

During the hour-long interview, Burns discussed the art of storytelling as well as topics specific to U.S. history and current events.

ken-burns Vietnam helicopter poster courtesy of PBS

Ken Burn’s latest documentary, “The Vietnam War,” highlights one of the most controversial events in American history. (Photo courtesy of PBS)

“The part of the interview that stood out the most was his comment that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes,” junior Madison Huber said, noting the Mark Twain quotation that Burns discussed. “…he was right in that history doesn’t repeat itself exactly over time but there are certain trends that seem to carry over throughout the ages.”

Burns mentioned that he “tells stories that ask the same question: ‘Who are we?’” which left the audience intrigued by his perspective. Some of his opinions also startled the audience, especially one concerning the way citizens normally perceive history and the way it is told.

“The part of his interview that stood out to me the most was when he predicted that the internet could be this country’s downfall,” Venezia said. “As someone who has analyzed years upon years of history his whole life, he is probably able to make valid predictions about the future due to the patterns he sees in history.”

The event opened with a moving video retrospective of his work, which included his plans for future documentaries on country music, Ernest Hemingway, Muhammad Ali and, eventually, the American Revolution, which got an excited reaction from the junior class, especially U.S. history teacher Jennifer Havens, who organized the field trip.

“Any time I have the opportunity to make history real and relevant to my students, I jump at it,” said Havens, who chaperoned the trip along with English teacher Alyssa Morreale. “So many of the topics that Ken Burns discussed we have discussed in class, such as the importance of learning and telling stories from all perspectives.”

Havens, Morreale and the Class of 2019 all felt that Burns’ perspective of history and storytelling was beneficial and relevant to what they are studying in their junior humanities classes as well as their broader understanding of current events. Burns’ wise and eloquent insights proved that his ability to truly capture and inspire his audience transcends his filmwork.




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