tv Talk to Al Jazeera Al Jazeera April 26, 2014 12:30pm-1:01pm EDT
generation of followers already learning his language. emma hayward, al jazeera, in stratford upon avon. from shakespeare to the crisis in ukraine, you can get all of the latest on the stories following here if you head to our website aljazeera.com. >> ithis is the declaration of independence 2.0. >> the gettysburg address, the america's most important speech, the words of abraham lincoln is the latest of burns work. >> the flawed hypocrisy of thompson jefferson's original declarations.
>> one doubling down to one of the families, the rooz veez roo roosevelts. >> ken, why have you decided to deal with a very important part of that era? >> people ask me how do i choose my projects and this one chose me. i live in a tiny town in rural new hampshire, putney, vermont, greenwood school, they asked me to be a judge at this gettysburg recitation event. i literally wept. i thought, somebody should make a film on this but that would be cinema verite.
finally, with the 150th approaching, i just said, we got to do this, i got to put my money where my mouth is. we had to make a film about this heroic struggle of these boys. we had a larger programmaticking true program maticstruggling. if we can do it we can tape it too. you can tape the gettysburg address to your mirror and curse me but you'll get it. if you go on you can see the thousands of designatio citizene uploaded their renditions. >> you've got actors, five living presidents, all sorts of people. >> fourscore and seven years ago. >> our fathers brought forth on this continent. >> conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are
created equal. >> now we are engaged in a great civil war. >> why do you think it's so important for people to go back and memorize the address? >> we have lost something, we have lost our educational mojo. we stopped asking people to memorize stuff. it was rote and bad ant not good. the effort of memorization, there was a sense of accomplishment. for the boys at the school it's like a talisman. history is a table upon which we can still have a social discourse. we have bill o'reilly and nancy pelosi and all the five living presidents contributing to this. do they see eye to eye on current events? no, of course not.
but the gettysburg address is a place to begin, to restore the civil discourse, to appeal to the better angels of our nature, abraham lincoln himself would say. and to repair the things we've lost in our educational system and the things we share in common. that's what the gettysburg address is. >> and it's impossible t not to agree with everything lincoln said, the beauty of his words resonate. >> this is doubling down on the hypocrisy, on the jefferson's declaration that we hold these truths to be se self-evident, that all men are created equal, he owned over 200 slaves. we have a new birth of freedom. the first sentence he talks
about if past, the second sentence he talks about the present, and he's willing us, begging us to enter a future and it's the operating system, the 2.0 that we operate under now. >> where democracy will not perish from the earth. lets look at the process the boys go through at the putney school. >> our feargts are dedicated to the -- fathers are dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. >> it ends up being a lot of work for a lot of them but all have tremendous effects. >> it is. they all form from some learning difference, dyslexia disgraphia, a whole alfabt alphabet soup of things.
they are scared to have public recitation. some have language difficulties that make it hard to memorize or other. it is a boarding school for kids who should still be at home but held together by the loving kindness of the people at the school. they emerge from their struggling and it's such -- struggles and it's such a loving admiration that emerges. >> let's hear it. >> we here highly resolve that these dead should not have died in vein. >> and a new birth of freedom that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth. [cheering and applause]
>> so that is beautiful max. i took that with my smartphone because i realize we were covering the parental reactions while they were giving the address. but when i saw him coming back and i'd known that max had not -- had knew the speech cold but was terrified about doing it in public. and an hour before he wasn't going to do it. and he did it. and he did it mag nife magnificd sort of melted into his mother. in all the exultations -- >> was amazing for you to see. >> it was amazing. >> you are now going back to what we love so much for so >> yes. >> with the roosevelts. that's your next project, from the birth of teddy roosevelt to the are dead of eleanor, who was
a niece to franklin roosevelt who was a fifth cousin. >> has more affect than any other family, i'll defend that to the end. this is a very complicated family drama, an american downton 18. abbey. about 3 extraordinary people, whose stories are timeless. what are we debating? what is the role of government, what can a citizen expect from government? how does character form leadership, how does adversity form character later in life and how does that form to leadership skills? these are the central questions of the roosevelts and the interplay of, after franklin was stricken with polio is one of the great american stories.
i think we focus too much on the outer stuff. it's all there, the two world wars, the depression, everything that's going on but from an intimate point of view. >> having spent time with franklin delano roosevelt i know you said lincoln is our greatest president -- >> pop music and baseball and the presidency, besides george washington, besides babe ruth besides the beatles are it's sort of that, it's's for second place. lincoln has always been the greatest president in my mind but now roosevelt has competed with him because of empathy leadership and owe opacity. this is not an uncritical roosevelts. >> did you ever think that many
americans would be interested in watching something that happened 130 years before? >> the civil war is the most important happening in the united states. there is a saying that if you are having a bad season, you put out a civil war book. there is a pent up curiosity about the civil war. i had put it in the can. they said it's terrific, nobody's going to watch that. even stephen bochco has this story called pop rocks, and by the way, we're in an mtv generation and nobody has that attention span. well, it turns out we're all starved for meaning. we all know that real meaning, gaston meanin significant meaning accrues.
netflix and people are binging. >> it was flashy video and graphics and cable news, short sound bites. attention spans get shorter and shorter. >> we're in the editing room and using these news pieces, i'm here such and such and speaking to somebody, and that person speaks for a minute. now i'm hearing somebody, and that person speaks for two seconds. then they tell you what they said. i'm worried if lincoln did the gettysburg address, today. some politician would say, lincoln just tried to distract us from his
miserable campaign out west. >> there's so much written about our historical literacy and how it's not being taught well about how people don't know much about their history so there is a certain dichotomy here that you've been so successful in telling the stories of our past. >> it tells you that there's pent-up demand, there is hunger, curiosity, we all can look at nice u tube things of kittens and balls of string. but we need longer-form things. >> what do you tell them? >> when we got rid of memorization we also got rid of narrative. the word history which for some people, means castor oil, something you hold your nose over, it's not good tasting. but history is made mostly about story. the series i've done, documentaries, same laws apply,
it's story, story telling, if you've got a good story you've got them there. if it's a kid seven or eight years old, and hasn't really because of how they've grown up because of television or video games or whatever, doesn't have the visceral connection with the greatest man made invention which is the book, it might take a clip of the civil war and all of a sudden you've made a student of them, and they're going back to the book. >> this is "talk to al jazeera." >> our current system has gone very far awry... >> there's huge pressure on the police to arrest and find somebody guilty >> i think the system is going to fail a lot of other people. >> you convicted the wrong person >> i find that extraordinarily disappointing... >> to keep me from going to jail, i needed to cooperate. >> the evidence was inaccurate >> they still refuse the dna
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film maker ken burns. what is your view of history? it seems to me you toe kind of a middle ground between those who believe in the ultrapatriotic great man theory of history and more leftist that might look at a more popular history and looks at the evils of the past. >> i think you've hit the nail on the head. for a long time we've told about the history of great men, capital g capital m. it was presidents and wars in general. then we threw that out and replaced it with an equally fraudulent set, that american history was a history of european crimes. but there's a middle ground and that's an important thing. it's not some pablum that is mediocre, it is passionate but it understands, you can know about lincoln but let's learn about a southern ingredient and
a northern grunt and have them meet in the middle. that's the way we've tried to tell history. the other thing is too often we want to make something that's so critical that we throw the baby know? in order to elevate one president we have to demean another. you don't have to do that. you don't have to make people wrong in that regard. the histories we tell are unafraid of controversy and tragedy but equally, an abiding faith in the human spirit and a unique role of this remarkable but also dysfunctional republic, plays in the positive man kind. that's my mantra. then people come and say wow and you hear it from all sides of the political spectrum. all regions of the country. and that's a good thing where you can have a table as i said before where we can have a conversation around. and that's american history. and the other huge point about that is that they're not cycles
of history, i don't believe in that. i don't even think we are condemned to repeat what we don't remember. i think that's a lovely phrase but that's not true. i think human nature remains the same. you study the past and you study yourself in the present too. >> is that where your love of history comes from? i know your mom died when you were 11, she was sick pretty much since you were a toddler. i know you're quoted as saying, your whole work is an attempt to make people long gone come back to life. >> he said you wake the dead. i have been disturbed that my -- i could not remember the date of my mother's death. it always kept coming and then recreeding an receding and he said i bet you kept blowing out your candles wishing her to come back. i said
yes i do, what make you say that? he says you keep letting people reappear. it permitted me to have that close your with my mom. i have not now in 25 years forgotten her birthday, her death day and be able to memorialize her. i have had things change. i've matured in a way but the passion for waking the dead, not holding that old photograph at arm's length but to get inside it, hear it, examine it, hear it, has not gone away. nor has the exploration of the past, an honest and complicated exploration of the past is incredibly hopeful guide to what we're doing now. >> you've covered great events, civil war, world war ii the world series and jackie robinson -- >> asking who are we, what comes back from these projects are
familiar themes. the first is obvious, about freedom. the nature of personal and collective freedoms and the tensions between those pol polarities. race is always a dynamic. there's tensions between labor and management. there's stories of immigration. there's women. there's all sorts of powerful themes that sort of compel almost all the stories in american history and you know i don't go looking for it. i'm not looking to say, there is the racial dimension. if you scratch the surface and say, i'm not interested in the superficialsuperficial themes o, you'll go wrong all the time. >> do you have a preference? >> no. for a long time i loved the post-civil war era. i live in a beautiful village in
new england. if i could take antibiotics i would love to go back to then. but when made a film called the central park 5. we updated our are baseball series, came out in 2010. but i've spent more time i think in the '20s and '30s and '40s inner other period because baseball went through there, and prohibition went through the '20s. the interesting thing say the 1920s is i've gone through it so many times and it's always a different '20s because it's so great. today with our convention at wisdom, we know what the '20s is, it's the jazz age, it's something else. ththe 20
s i went through with the dust bowl is a different from the jazz age. believe it or not our future is pretty well laid out. we're going to leave work and go home. but the past as a malleablity of it. you ask a question about one day and you get a totally different answer. then it proves the point that the past becomes the greatest armor to face that future. because you've been through the vicissitudes of the past. you know what people have suffered. you know what real leadership is. you can recognize it when you see it here when people say oh we have no heroes anymore. i go oh that's crazy, they're all around us but with what is your litmus test of heroism? it is perfectionism. we get the word hero from the greeks, they are interested in
their strengths but their equal and obvious flaws. >> another interestings thing you do in your body of work is you have a tremendous variety of scope of the things you are expressing. the civil war, epic. big things. >> big things. >> the guy who just -- horatio or the brooklyn bridge. the english poet william blake said you could find the world in a grain of sand and that is sort of in a way an atom looks like our solar system, it's the idea by describing the moment you can reflect all moments. sometimes you have to take those big subjects and then when you treat them what do you do? it's not just lincoln you go down to that private, right? you have that thing but sometimes just looking at that private, we look at the whole history of world war ii, focusing on individuals from four geographically distribute american
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>> ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ >> this is "talk to al jazeera." i'm with ken burns and we've been talking about his films including his latest documentary "the address'. brought up the future, you are the future. now there's a ken burns act. >> i think what happened is, wired magazine said if you would warrant to look at all of my films, it would take you five days and three quarters to get through them. we were thinking, nowadays wouldn't it be great to cure eightatesome of the themes we we talking about -- curate some of the things we were talking about, some of the things that happen in american history and take clips and arrange like play lists, moments in the films two, three minutes long. and it makes for a kind of
credit initial immersion into my body of work without having to spend five and three quarters days and nights watching everything. but it will say wow, this happened, and i see the interrelationships of things. that warp and woof of history. that fabric of time and the way these themes interrelate. and the sense of the from from-imposition of events. from the inconvenient thing that none of us are getting out of this alive. none of us. even though we think there's an exception, none of it is going to happen. we invent history and religion and art and all sorts of things to superimpose. most of all we invent stories, how was your day? and then we tell what happens and we take the random chaoticness of things and we say, here is the frame around it. here is my story.
and that's what human beings do every single do. and the app is an attempt to sort of say let me take all the stuff we've done and curate seven or eight little mixed tapes that we enjoy. >> you have been referred to as the most influential historian of all time, or film maker of all time. how do you take all this? >> i live in a little new hampshire town where all of that gets you a cup of coffee. rather than the number of emmys and oscar nominations. it's very nice when people get you awards or people tell you you're this or that, stephen ambrose says more americans get their history from me, if you tell a story, a good story is a good story is a good story and that's what i care about. >> we all look forward to hearing them. thank you for coming. >> my pleasure.
>> on the next talk to al jazeera >> oscar winner sean penn shares his views on privacy rights, press freedom and his controversial relationship with hugo chavez >> talk to al jazeera only on al jazeera america good afternoon. i'm morgan radford live in new york, and here are the top stories. does lithuania need nato? i guarantee you nato will be there. >> u.s. troops arrive in lithuania as nato beefs up its presence in the balkan states. president obama prepares for trade talks with leaders in malaysi malaysia. >> there you have it,