Pro File

The Past as Present

Ken Burns gives us America.

By Steve Wiecking October 2, 2009

Ken Burns visited Seattle in 2006. (photo courtesy Charles Peterson)

If you’ve been enjoying Ken Burns’s ongoing PBS documentary about the National Parks as much as I have you’ll also like taking a walk with him through the Museum of History and Industry, which is what I did for this magazine back in 2006, when Burns was preparing the parks piece as well as his 14-hour series about World War II. People often criticize Burns’s works for their "talking head" sameness or, in the case of his Jazz, for not including every last piece of information he could get his hands on.

But I think Burns and his PBS triumphs will prove to have lasting impact on the hearts and minds of this country.

The guy understands that, as he told me during our interview, "if you have a relationship to the past, then you have a relationship to the present, and then you actually have a future.” He uses his time, passion, power, talent and funding to get average Americans engaged in thinking about who we’ve been, who we are, and who we might be—and how inextricably linked all those concerns are to one another in a rapid technological age when people desperately need to grasp the notion that right now involves far more than just this moment in time.

Filed under
Show Comments