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PBS to produce 'VIETNAM' documentary

New film by Ken Burns and longtime partner Lynn Novick to air in 2016

PBS has announced that Ken Burns and his longtime partner Lynn Novick are producing and directing a 10-12 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.

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“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 Burns (pictured at left). “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 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) and THE WAR (2007).

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.

VIETNAM is a production of Florentine Films, Ken Burns’ documentary production company, and WETA, the leading public broadcasting station in the nation’s capital. Key personnel include Ken Burns (Producer, Director), Lynn Novick (Producer, Director), Sarah Botstein (Producer), Geoffrey C. Ward (Writer) and Buddy Squires (Principal Cinematographer). The advisory panel for the project includes Tim O’Brien, Samuel Hynes, Karl Marlantes, Jack Laurence and Roger Spiller. The film is underwritten by Bank of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, public television viewers, PBS, Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, and the Parks Foundation.

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