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Ken Burns Going Back to War, This Time in Vietnam

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When he was making the rounds for his World War II documentary in 2007, Ken Burns told me (and other reporters) that he had finally decided to make a film about Vietnam too. Here’s what he said at the time:

Not today, but–there was a point where, with the same vehemence of conviction that I said it after The Civil War, I’d said that we’d never do another war. I felt just within the last few months that we absolutely had to do it. I think we have to wait enough time, several years, until the veterans are, not so much at the onset of death, but at the age where their advancing age will provide them with the kind of perspectives that we’ve been able to tap into for this film.

Apparently enough time has passed now, because today he officially announced his upcoming project, Vietnam, already in production and planned to air on PBS in 2016. The Civil War (rerunning beginning this Sunday) aired in 1990, just before the U.S. fought the first Gulf War. Since then–well, reality has given him a lot to keep up with. When will we see Ken Burns’ War on Terror?

Excerpts from the announcement after the jump:

Arlington, VA – March 28, 2011 – PBS announced today that Ken Burns and his long-time partner Lynn Novick are producing and directing a ten-to-twelve hour documentary film series about the history and meaning of the Vietnam War.

The series will explore the military, political, cultural, social, and human dimensions of what has been called “the war of lost illusions.” It will focus primarily on the human experience of the conflict, using eyewitness testimonies of so-called “ordinary” people – Americans as well as Vietnamese – whose lives were touched by the war. Parallel to the unfolding military narrative, the series will also tell the story of the millions of American citizens who became deeply opposed to it, taking to the streets in some of the largest protest demonstrations the nation has seen

VIETNAM is slated for broadcast in 2016 on PBS.

“Today, more than four decades after it ended, nearly everyone has an opinion about the Vietnam War, but few Americans truly know its history and there is little consensus about what happened there, or why,” said Ken Burns. “Our series will shed light both on the history of the war, and on our inability to find common ground about it.”

“We feel it is of paramount importance to honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women who did what our country asked of them, and went to Vietnam,” said Lynn Novick. “By providing an opportunity for veterans, their families, and those who opposed the war alike, to bear witness to their experiences, we believe that this series will help heal the deep divisions that have endured in America for decades over this enormously controversial and tragic war.”

VIETNAM will be accompanied by a robust interactive website; an educational initiative designed to engage teachers and students in multiple platforms; and community engagement grants that will enable local PBS stations to examine the history and impact of the war in their region.

VIETNAM rounds out a trilogy of films on war, complementing past Florentine Films projects THE CIVIL WAR (1990) — which will be rebroadcast on Sunday, April 3-Thursday, April 7, 2011 in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War — and THE WAR (2007). (The first episode of THE CIVIL WAR will also premiere on the free PBS for iPad and PBS App for the iPhone and iPod Touch beginning on March 24 for ten days prior to the highly anticipated re-broadcast of the entire film. PBS will make the first episode available for free download at the iTunes store at the same time.)

Similar in form to these previous projects, VIETNAM will incorporate on-camera interviews with witnesses, third person narration, archival footage and photographs, music, sound effects and live cinematography. The producers will travel to Vietnam to film the now silent battlefields and to conduct interviews with Vietnamese participants. To provide a sense of how the war overseas was experienced on the home front, Vietnam will interweave the television news reports that vividly brought the fighting into American living rooms night after night. TV and radio newscasts will also provide invaluable cultural contextualization through their coverage of politics, popular culture, the growing generational divide, and the anti-war and civil rights movements. Popular music of the era, particularly rock and roll and rhythm and blues, will infuse the series with the sensibility of the war years.

Also accompanying the series will be a companion book, written by Geoffrey C. Ward, with an introduction by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, which will be published by Alfred A. Knopf, Burns’s longtime publisher. Ward, principal writer for the THE CIVIL WAR and THE WAR, has written the Vietnam film series.