We were once a group of freshmen living on the first floor of Binford Hall at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. As you may recall, the first few weeks of college can be difficult, and it is sometimes hard to find your place amongst the herd of similarly wide-eyed freshmen. Lucky for us, we all happened to share a love and (potentially creepy) enthusiasm for the films of Ken Burns. The celebrated filmmaker behind such epic films as The War, Jazz, Lewis & Clark, Baseball, and The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, Ken Burns has acted as director and producer on more than twenty films. He is the hero of Public Television and his name has become synonymous with his style of filmmaking. He became our hero, our inspiration and our common bond. Through numerous screenings of Ken Burns documentaries and animated discussions in dorm rooms, across the Lawn, over IM and in the cafeteria, we managed to navigate those first few weeks and months – together.
In the spring of our freshman year, we were insanely excited to find that Ken Burns himself would be coming to our campus to speak. We were so excited, in fact, that we decided to use body paint to show our devotion. We will probably never attend a Super Bowl, but for us, this was just as exciting. While most of us chickened out at the last minute, four brave souls did not. At the end of Mr. Burns’ speech he approached the “K,” the “E,” the “N” and the “!” to shake their hands. When a photographer for the College’s newspaper asked to take a picture, Mr. Burns – always the documentarian – responded, “I – I don’t have to be in this picture.” Lucky for us (and for posterity), the photographer was quick.
Eight years have passed since this photograph was taken, and those freshmen from Binford First Floor have grown into (what some would call) adulthood. We have real jobs. We are teachers, writers, designers, social workers, administrators, theologians, technicians and consultants. We have apartments, houses and some of us still live at home. We have served our country and some of us are already distinguished combat veterans. We have kept in touch and we have drifted apart.
When the summer issue of Guilford’s Newsletter arrived in our mailboxes announcing the return of Ken Burns to Guilford College, each of us began to reminisce about that spring day all those years ago. We began to exchange emails, talking about planning a trip back to our alma mater to witness this auspicious event, almost as rare as a comet.
We decided that the only way to truly and properly pay homage to our hero was to document our trip – our reunion, our odyssey, our pilgrimage – in the way he taught us. No – this will not be a twelve-part miniseries totaling 108 hours. Nor will it feature Sam Waterston (unless there is some kind of miracle) (Mr. Waterston – we love you and are still searching for a Narrator!). It will, however, feature long panning shots of everything you can possibly take long panning shots of. There will be narration, stock photography, letters and emails read aloud, expert testimonials and Mr. Burns himself.
The greatest documentarian of our time, potentially of all time, Mr. Burns never backs down from a project because it might be too grand, too broad or too difficult. We have decided that we will not back down from this project because it seems too surreal, too parochial, or FAR too silly.
The films of Ken Burns brought us together, instilled in us a love of the United States and its history, and taught us the value of public broadcasting and of filmmaking – that is the Ken Burns effect and we are living proof of its power to unite and create unbreakable bonds.
We took an award-winning director of photography, an award-winning European documentary consultant, an award-winning recipe for apple pie, two overzealous producers and an incredibly good-looking production team to Greensboro last Spring. We had many adventures, countless bathroom breaks, spent way too much time lost in the woods and had a few too many Jolly Ranchers. We made it to the Event. We got there, people saw us, we conquered Ken Burns’ Green Room. And, luckily for you, we have it all on camera.
What now, you may very well ask. Now we want MORE. More interviews, more adventures, more panning shots, more Jolly Ranchers and WAY more Ken Burns. The only way we can get any of this is with your help.
If you love Ken Burns as much as we do, we encourage you to join us! Please email us at theKBeffect@gmail.com to see how you can help or get involved. We are in the process of funding our film right now, you can click here to learn more!
We truly believe in the power of film to teach, transform and transport and we are eager to tell this story – OUR story – in the only way we know how – with the Ken Burns Effect.