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Ken Burns: Vietnam

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns is seen during a

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns is seen during a news conference at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Burns is planning a documentary on Vietnam. (March 25, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

Ken Burns will produce a 10-12 hour documentary on Vietnam, to air in 2016, he announced earlier this afternoon. Lynn Novick, his longtime collaborator, will co-pilot the project. Burns  – his landmark "Civil War" will air next week  –  seems about as well-suited to a project of this magnitude and scope as anyone. His opus on the Second World War was another landmark event, and hard to imagine this won't be as well. His statement: 

“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,” Ken Burns said. “Our series will shed light both on the history of the war, and on our inability to find common ground about it.”

 TV last tackled the war way back in 1983 with Richard Ellison's and Stanley Karnow's classic "Vietnam: A Television History," which to that point was among the most expensive (just under $5 million) documentary in PBS  history and aired over a number of hours. Ellison's and Karnow's sought an objective account, and attempted to get North Vietnamese and VC accounts  –  this about three years before Vietnam instituted free market reforms and effectively opened its doors to the west and not even 10 years after the end of the war. The broadcast set PBS viewing records at the time.

Now, Ken and Lynn's turn ...

Here's more from the new release: 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.

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