In preparation for a rare appearance by iconic documentary filmmaker Ken Burns at Brookdale in October, college faculty, staff and students came together on March 23 to launch “America’s Stories: A Ken Burns Film Series.”
The film series, which features film clips, expert analysis and discussion of some of Burns’ most acclaimed documentaries, will run throughout this year and culminate on Oct. 27, when the director himself will host a special program in the Collins Arena.
The first film series program, held in the MAN building this week, centered on two of Burns’ most impactful films and featured discussion by two Brookdale history experts. History professor Jane Scimeca hosted discussion for the documentary Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, which depicts the struggles and success the two women had in leading the women’s suffrage movement in the United States.
Director of Education at the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights, and Genocide Education and adjunct history professor Jane Denny hosted discussion for the documentary Defying the Nazis: The Sharp’s War. The film tells the story of Waitstill and Martha Sharp, an American Unitarian couple who helped smuggle hundreds of Jewish refugees out of Nazi-held territories prior to the United States intervention into World War II.
“Ken Burns has not only legitimized but popularized history in such a way that people are interested in listening to the stories of the American past,” Denny said. “He is so meticulous in his documentation that one can depend on his work as being historically accurate and having the integrity it needs in order to tell these stories.”
Following the screenings, many audience members discussed the parallels between the documentaries’ subjects, the ongoing Middle Eastern refugee crisis and the women’s rights movement stirred by the 2016 presidential election.
While many students were familiar with Burns’ work, others – such as second-year student Jonathan Shafrir – said they were encountering the director for the first time.
“I think it’s going to be incredible for him to come to Brookdale,” Shafrir said. “Being Jewish, the stories of Jews escaping Nazi Germany were touching. And it was amazing learning more about the women’s suffrage movement and comparing it to today’s movement. I can’t wait for his visit next fall.”
The Ken Burns Film Series will continue on Apr. 27 with screenings of The Civil War – the highest rated documentary series in public television history – and The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. The program, running from 11:30 am to 1 p.m. in Lincroft, will be hosted by Brookdale faculty members Bernard Olsen and Thomas Cioppa.
All film series programs are free an open to all. For full details visit the Brookdale events page.
Check out more photos of the Mar. 23 Ken Burn’s documentary showing here.
-Article and photos by Minh Connors, college relations intern. Feature photo by Justin Altman.