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Chautauqua Preview: A Week with Ken Burns

AP Photo/PBS, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, Hyde Park, NY, Daniel J. White

Filmmaker Ken Burns' latest production, "The Roosevelts," will premiere on PBS in September.  This week, Burns will be appearing at the Chautauqua Institution to talk about this and the other films he's produced during his illustrious career.  More now from WBFO's Mark Scott in our Chautauqua Preview.

Ken Burns has produced such award-winning film documentaries for PBS as "The Civil War," "Baseball" and "Jazz."  His style is well known by now -- the use of still photos mixed with narration and first person voices and accompanied by period music.  In this 2012 interview with PBS, Burns said it's all about telling a story.

"When you see the still photograph or the single image -- the DNA of what we try to do -- then our job is to (make) that past (come) alive," Burns said.  "If you can wake that photograph up by adding sound and first person voices, then you feel like you can touch history."

Burns will be featured at the morning lecture at the Chautauqua Amphitheater all week.  Tuesday, he'll touch on his first major work, "The Civil War" -- the year 1864 in particular.  Then on Wednesday, Chautauqua President Tom Becker says Burns will explore a film that is still two years away from completion -- the Vietnam War.

"What people will see are unedited, very rough cuts.  You're going to see the gestation of a project," Becker said.  "So, you and I will hear something before he's done.  You'll hear about an art work in process."

Even though many Americans of a certain age experienced Vietnam first hand each night on the evening news, there's little doubt Ken Burns will bring a new and fresh perspective to the bloody conflict. 

But first, Burns will explore the lives of two presidents who share the same last name.  "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History" will air on PBS, including WNED-TV, as two-hour episodes over seven nights, beginning Sept. 14.

Chautauqua's Tom Becker says Burns will be joined Thursday and Friday by his collaborator on the Roosevelts project, Geoffrey Ward.

"He begins with Theodore's birth and ends with Eleanor's death.  So, that's a scope of time to consider that family," Becker said.  "He's just lit up about it."

The afternoon Interfaith series at the Hall of Philosophy will feature Krista Tippett, the host of the public radio program, "On Being."  She'll be joined each day by a guest and together they will explore the "American Consciousness."  Less than a week after she did her last show on NPR's "Tell Me More," Michel Martin will join Tippett at Chautauqua on Thursday.  Despite the cancelation of her show, Martin is remaining with NPR.  She'll continue to report on issues of ethnicity, race and faith.

"We've done a lot to show what's possible here.  I want to keep that going," Martin said.  "I can't say to them you need to do better serving these audiences and then walk away from it.  I just don't think that's fair."

Associate Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno talks about Krista Tippett and the American Consciousness.

Credit Photo courtesy of the Capitol Steps
The Capitol Steps satirize airport security.

Also this week, the Capitol Steps return to Chautauqua with their topical political humor, Wednesday at 8:15 at the Amphitheater. 

Vice President of Programming Marty Merkley talks about appearances this week by the Capitol Steps and singer Jackie Evancho

Then Friday, it's the final production of the Chautauqua Theater season.  Director Vivienne Benesch says this year's Shakespearean play is "The Tempest."

"It is Shakespeare's final masterpiece," Benesch said.  "It's definitely a comedy.  It's an adventure tale.  It's a family drama.  It's a masterpiece filled with incredible poetry."

The curtain rises on "The Tempest" Friday night at 8:00 at the Bratton Theater.  

One other note.  Tuesday is Annual Fund Day at Chautauqua to celebrate the important role of philanthropy at Chautauqua.  Chautauquans are invited to Bestor Plaza during the noon hour to picnic and listen to the Community Band.  There's also an open house at the Chautauqua Foundation offices from 9 to 5.