Culture » Film

An evening with Ken Burns and the The Vietnam War


  • Justin Altman
More than 5 million people visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 2016, proof that our country hasn’t shed, and may never shed, the emotional weight of that conflict. But with current events and political divisiveness recalling so much of that dark time in our collective history, there’s a new relevance to re-examining the war from all angles and considering our history as a nation and as individuals.

Ken Burns, world-famous director of The Civil War (1990), The Roosevelts (2014) and many more award-winning documentaries, said of his upcoming 18-hour film series The Vietnam War: “This film is not an answer, but a set of questions about what happened.”

Wednesday Burns will be in Denver with highly decorated Gen. Merrill McPeak, taking part in a Q&A about the documentary in advance of its Sept. 17 airdate. Luckily, since the Denver event is sold out and Interstate 25 is hell in the best of conditions, Rocky Mountain PBS will livestream the event, hosting screenings in Colorado Springs and Grand Junction. Attendees will be able to ask questions as if they were there themselves, after watching a one-hour segment of the film.

Keanna Smith, regional director of Rocky Mountain PBS, says: “You get a unique opportunity to hear directly from Ken Burns ... and his take on a very complicated, emotional topic.”
Burns has been lauded for his techniques in using archival video and photos alongside eye-catching movement and period-appropriate music. His ambitious documentaries examine topics ranging from sports to the environment to war, presenting nuanced and multifaceted perspectives. There is no doubt The Vietnam War, which he directed with Lynn Novick, will hold the same power.

“We know it’s going to be great because it’s Ken Burns,” Smith says, “and PBS always does a great job of putting together thoughtful content around some difficult subjects.”

However, Smith is just as excited about what’s been coming out of the regional office, a selection of local stories that will be presented tonight along with the preview. They’ve interviewed Vietnam veterans from all over Colorado, and encouraged them to share their stories.

Smith says: “We are telling stories that are important to Coloradans and stories that are important to Pueblo and Colorado Springs and La Junta and Salida and other communities that don’t always have their voices elevated the way that they should.”

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