Ken Burns

Ken Burns

President's Distinguished Speakers Series

Award Winning Documentary Filmmaker
11 am, February 11, 2011
Granite State Room, Memorial Union Building

Photo Gallery
Video of event

Ken Burns has been making films for more than thirty years. Since the Academy Award nominated Brooklyn Bridge in 1981, Ken has gone on to direct and produce some of the most acclaimed historical documentaries ever made. A December 2002 poll conducted by Real Screen Magazine listed The Civil War as second only to Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North as the “most influential documentary of all time,” and named Ken Burns and Robert Flaherty as the “most influential documentary makers” of all time. In March, 2009, David Zurawik of The Baltimore Sun said, “… Burns is not only the greatest documentarian of the day, but also the most influential filmmaker period. That includes feature filmmakers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. I say that because Burns not only turned millions of persons onto history with his films, he showed us a new way of looking at our collective past and ourselves.” Ken’s films have won twelve Emmy Awards and two Oscar nominations, and in September of 2008, at the News & Documentary Emmy Awards, Ken was honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Ken has been the recipient of more than twenty-five honorary degrees and has delivered many treasured commencement addresses. He is a sought after public speaker, appearing at colleges, civic organizations and business groups throughout the country.

Ken Burns was the director, producer, co-writer, chief cinematographer, music director, and executive producer of the Public Television series Baseball. Four and a half years in the making and eighteen and a half hours in length, this film covers the history of baseball from the 1840s to the present. Through the extensive use of archival photographs and newsreel footage, baseball as a mirror of our larger society was brought to the screen over nine nights during its premiere in September 1994. It became the most watched series in PBS history, attracting more than 45 million viewers. David Bianculli of the New York Daily News said, "[Baseball]...resonates like a Mozart symphony." Richard Zoglin of Time magazine wrote, "Baseball is rich in drama, irresistible as nostalgia, and...an instructive window into our national psychology." Baseball received numerous awards, including an Emmy, the CINE Golden Eagle Award, the Clarion Award, and the Television Critics Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Sports and Special Programming.

His most recent film “The Tenth Inning,” is an update to the 1994 epic Baseball, and premiered on PBS in 2010. Currently in production is a three-part, six-hour history of Prohibition, tentatively set for PBS broadcast in 2011. Future projects already in the works include films on the Dust Bowl, the Roosevelts, the Vietnam War, and the Central Park Jogger case.

Ken was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1953. He graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1975 and went on to be one of the co-founders of Florentine Films.