Notes from the 51st Ann Arbor Film Festival: Things Ken Burns Is Into

Ken Burns at Penny Stamps / Photo: On the opening night, we decided Ann Arbor Film Festival is really a study in eclecticism. Normally we would, and in the past we have, provide straight reviews of screenings and discussions, but this year we’re doing something a little bit different. We’re calling it Notes From the Festival and it’s exactly that. Everything that stood out in the sensory overload of offerings and we deemed worthy of a note. The following come from Ken Burns' Penny Stamps talk and the discussion after the screening of his latest documentary, Central Park Five (which will screen on PBS in April). It should be stated that Ken Burns never actually used the phrase "into it," but we knew what he meant.

Ken Burns is into things during his Penny Stamps talk

Ken Burns is into digging, specifically, emotional archaeology and extracting and distilling the past.

Ken Burns is into American history, specifically, complex history, which basically translates to race related.

"You can't scratch the surface of American history without dealing with race." - KB

Ken Burns is into the editing room, specifically, how it allowed him answer Nick Larocca in Jazz.

Ken Burns is into jokes about February, specifically, how it's the coldest and shortest month so we made it African American history month as "some politically correct addendum to our national history."

Ken Burns is into doing something different, specifically, Central Park Five, which features no narrator, few adjectives, and some rationed title cards.

Ken Burns is into the story, specifically, the full story, specifically, submitting to the narrative, specifically, not the cliff-notes / YouTube version.

Ken Burns is into change, not for the sake of changing but when it's organic.

Ken Burns is into quoting the Duke, specifically, the line "the one I'm working on now," specifically in response to the question, "what is your best work?"

Ken Burns is into multitasking, specifically, working on a seven-part history of the Roosevelts (casually featuring Paul Giamatti and Meryl Streep),  a Jackie Robinson biopic, a seven or eight part feature on Vietnam [this provoked serious oohs and ahhs from the assembled], the "terrifying and wonderful" history of country music, and a two-part biopic of Ernest Hemingway.

Ken Burns is into the Gettysburg Address, specifically, when recited by kids at the Greenwood School as a way to learn the history. He is finishing a documentary on the project, because obviously, he's Ken Burns, and it's called The Address, ideally to be released in time for 150th anniversary.

"I couldn't not do this project." - KB

Ken Burns is into the Ann Arbor Film Festival, specifically, endowing a prize because the fest gives no cares about Hollywood and when he was a kid living here, his dad took him, and well, it was seminal.

Ken Burns is into feminism, specifically, he hopes feminists would claim that title and hopes they see that his films almost always deal with women.

"I have four daughters. I can't go home and show my face without dealing with it." - KB

Ken Burns is still into things after the Central Park Five screening

Ken Burns is still into talking about race, specifically, the ridiculous disconnect in treatment/reaction to the Central Park Five prosecutors and say, the Duke not-rapists prosecutors who were ceremoniously scorned and disbarred.

Ken Burns is still into optimism.

"I wouldn't be making the films I make if I didn't think it had some purpose." - KB

Ken Burns is still into his Ann Arbor ties, specifically, shaking the hand of his old Scout Master and meeting with his guidance counselor.

Ken Burns is still into the human dimension, specifically, the sacrifice, how this happened, who were the five - when it came down to people protecting a mistake, how was it easier for them to sacrifice five black and brown kids than own up?

Ken Burns is into letting Raymond Santana speak, Raymond Santana is into educating, specifically, parents and kids so that when they fall into these situations they can be helped and these things can be prevented.

Raymond Santana is also into the close contact of the Five.

"We became brothers, all one big family, I don't want to say 'dysfunctional' but..." - RS

Ken Burns is not into donations, at least not yet, the appeals and suit on behalf of the Five are happening pro-bono, so he'd rather you write outraged letters to Mayor Bloomberg and stay connected to the case.