An hour with Ken Burns

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending one of the very best Devotionals or Forums I’ve ever experienced in the seven and a half years I’ve attended BYU. Ken Burns, arguably the greatest documentary filmmaker of this or any generation, came to campus and spoke about history (in general) and the making of his new miniseries on World War II, simply titled The War (in particular). The man held us absolutely spellbound. After speaking for nearly 40 minutes (after which the BYU audience would normally prepare to leave), he then showed us a 10-minute clip from the first episode of The War. Then he took another 10 minutes to conclude his address. Then, after a lengthy standing ovation and closing prayer, he showed us a 5-minute collage of archival video from the war itself, accompanied by a beautiful and haunting rendition of "American Anthem," a song that serves as the musical theme of the series, sung by the incomparable Norah Jones. It left us speechless.

Based on the quality of that first clip alone, I would blind-buy the whole series on DVD in a heartbeat. (The second clip merely confirmed that impression.) Unfortunately, it won’t even air on PBS until September (which is why, for copyright reasons, there’s no transcript of Burns’ speech available, and why BYU will not broadcast this particular forum until after The War airs). As it is, I will go out on a limb and predict that this seven-part, fourteen-and-a-half hour series will be the most important non-live program to air on television in the entire history of the medium. Yes, it’s that good. Mark your calendars.

For newspaper coverage of Burns’ speech, see this article in The Daily Universe (03/28/07) and this article and this sidebar in the Deseret Morning News (03/28/07). And visit to learn more information about this extraordinary series.

Man, I really need to revisit The Civil War soon.

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