Ken Burns is an influential documentary
maker known for his films on American history. Since the 1980s, he has made over a dozen documentary miniseries for PBS
, including The Civil War
(1994), Frank Lloyd Wright
(2001), The War
(2007), The National Parks
(2011), and The Dust Bowl
Burn's documentaries are known for their unique style. He uses the technique known as The Ken Burns Effect
, made famous in The Civil War
. Burns also uses distinct musical scores, such as the upbeat string arrangements of The War
or the song "Ashokan Farewell", which was played over twenty times for The Civil War
. His films are able to attract some very
esteemed actors to do voice over work, usually reading contemporary diaries and letters (The Civil War featured Morgan Freeman
, Laurence Fishburne
and Jeremy Irons
among others). Another trademark is that a character will usually say their name and the year they wrote their thoughts. Burns has become well-known in the documentary world as a result, and many other filmmakers have emulated his style.
He also made a cameo in Gettysburg
as a Union officer who asks General Hancock to get off his horse as Hancock rides along the line to inspire his terrified men.
- Brooklyn Bridge (1981): His first documentary about the conception and construction of the Bridge and the people involved.
- The Shakers (1984)
- The Statue of Liberty (1985)
- Huey Long (1985)
- Thomas Hart Benton (1988)
- The Civil War (1990): Burns' first miniseries-style doc, covering the American Civil War in exhausting, often gruesome detail.
- Empire of the Air (1991): The story of the development of radio, and the contentious relationship between the people who created it.
- Baseball (1994): His second miniseries-doc, exploring the history of Baseball from its origins to the early 1990s.
- The West (1996)
- Thomas Jefferson (1997)
- Lewis & Clark (1997): The story of the first journey by Americans across the North American continent.
- Frank Lloyd Wright (1998)
- Not for Ourselves Alone (1999)
- Jazz (2001): A (limited) history of Jazz music.
- Mark Twain (2001)
- Horatio's Drive (2003): The story of the first journey across the United States by automobile.
- Unforgivable Blackness (2005)
- The War (2007): A history of World War II that was criticized for its intentionally limited scope (focusing on the American role in the war, and more specifically on four small-to-midsize American towns/cities).
- The National Parks (2009)
- 10th Inning (2010): A follow-up to Baseball, covering the years since that documentary's release.
- Prohibition (2011): A history of the Prohibition of alcohol in the United States, including the origins of the movement and its lingering effects. Based heavily on Last Call by Daniel Okrent.
- The Dust Bowl (2012): A tragic remembrance of America's greatest environmental disaster.
- The Central Park Five (2012)
- Yosemite (2013)
- The Address (2013): Schoolchildren memorize the Gettysburg Address 150 years after it was originally recited.
- The Roosevelts (2014): Chronicling the history of Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Eleanor Roosevelt from Theodore's birth to Eleanor's death, their personal lives and the influence they had on America and the world.
- Jackie Robinson (2015)
- Vietnam (2016)
- Country Music (2018)
- Ernest Hemingway (2019)