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Impromptu with Ken Burns

Ken Burns does live interview at WFMT

Ken Burns does live interview at WFMT


WFMT’s Kerry Frumkin speaks with filmmaker Ken Burns

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns paid WFMT a visit on Tuesday afternoon; he’s on a whirlwind tour to promote his latest series: The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.

As a director who’s covered everything from the Civil War, to baseball, to prohibition, to the national parks, Ken Burns is famous for making epic films about human endeavors – not so much for making biographies, although personal accounts are a hallmark of his storytelling style. His latest series is a biography, weaving together the stories of three people named Roosevelt: Teddy, his niece Eleanor, and her husband Franklin Delano Roosevelt, fifth cousin of Teddy.

According to Burns, the inspiration to focus on the Roosevelts came, in part, because of the way those three personalities continually intersected with the other film projects. “It’s a celebration of three extraordinary lives,” he said,  “but they are not without really glaring faults.”


Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns

“There’s this whole host of characters…that call into question all the fundamental elements that we’ve explored in many of the other films: what is the role of government, what can a citizen expect from government, what is the nature of leadership, what’s the tension between idealism and pragmatism – all of the stuff of America, all of the politics, but to [call these things into question] from the inside out…our subtitle is “An Intimate History,” and we’re interested not in psycho-babble, but in getting to know who these people are. What formed them.

“You know, if you’re interested in leadership, you’ve got to also be interested in character…you’ve got to understand how adversity or just the regular stuff of life formed that character in order to create (or not create) leadership.”

The new series The Roosevelts: An Intimate Story starts Sunday, September 14 at 7:00 pm on WTTW. For more on Ken Burns’s WFMT appearance, click here.

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