Ken Burns talks terror

Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns discussed recent films about the Sept. 11 attacks at The Kalb Report Monday.

After a moment of silence dedicated to the victims, host of the GW-sponsored public affairs show Marvin Kalb asked Burns if he planned to make a documentary about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Careful not to discount recent documentaries and feature films about Sept. 11, Burns said he needs “25 to 30 years to digest the events.”

“When you permit the passage of time, you sharpen the focus of the event,” he said.

When pressed about what the last five years means for America, Burns said it shows the nature of the American people.

“America today is endlessly and insanely divided,” Burns said. “We yearn for community, but we rarely come together unless it is under circumstances like the ones created by 9/11.”

Kalb asked Burns several questions about director Oliver Stone’s recently released “World Trade Center” and the film “United 93.” Burns wouldn’t specifically comment on the movies but criticized docudramas – fictionalized dramas based on true events – in general.

“(Docudramas use) the American culture to broaden the audience even if it’s not exactly accurate,” Burns said.

The filmmaker also discussed racism in America, major American historical events he covered in documentaries and his political views’ effects on his filmmaking.

Burns said he considers himself “very liberal” but said he does not let his political leaning interfere with his filmmaking.

“I’ve made it my obsession to keep politics out of my work,” he said, though he admitted that “complete moral neutrality was impossible” in separating all of his personal views from his films.

Kalb and Burns discussed the theme of racism in the filmmaker’s major works. The three documentaries that have won Burns Emmys – “The Civil War,” “Baseball” and “JAZZ” – all openly address racism, Burns said.

“When we seek to explore who we are, we bump into racism at every juncture,” he said.

Burns also plugged his next documentary, “The War,” which is scheduled to be released in 2007.

“(The War) is trying to tell the entire American perspective of World War II through four geographically diverse men,” Burns said. “From Connecticut, Alabama, California and Minnesota, we’ll follow these men into hell.”

Burns also said he plans to refute the positive view most have of World War II in his upcoming film.

“World War II was not a good war,” Burns said. “There’s no such thing as a good war; it was a necessary one.”

Burns mentioned the segregation of troops during the war and the unjust treatment of Japanese-Americans during the WWII era as an element of racism that surfaced in his latest documentary.

The Kalb Report, a monthly forum moderated by distinguished journalist Marvin Kalb and produced by GW, Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center and The National Press Club, invited Burns to discuss his career and to comment on the field of documentary filmmaking today.

The discussion was recorded in the National Press Club building in downtown D.C. and broadcast on XM satellite radio, Washington Post radio and public television stations.

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