Why Ken Burns’ ‘Vietnam War’ Is Filmmaker’s Most Ambitious Work Yet

Burns and co-producer Lynn Novick bring new documentary to PBS this September.

July 21, 2017 5:00 am
Ken Burns Returning With 'The Vietnam War'
Director/producer Ken Burns speaks onstage during 'The Vietnam War' premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at SVA Theater on April 28, 2017 in New York City. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)

American involvement in the Vietnam War began with us coming to the aid of ally France. But it would end up becoming our own lot—one that stretched through decades and claimed the lives of tens of thousands.

And since the last shots were fired, the war has become part of a seemingly endless national conversation, whether it be through literature (The Things They Carried), film (Full Metal Jacket), or song (Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son“).

Now, master documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick are wading into the conversation with their upcoming The Vietnam War, which will be out on Sept. 17 on PBS.

As Vanity Fair notes, it’s been in the works for 11 years, is comprised of 79 interviews, and will weigh in at an astonishing 18 hours. “Nothing compares to this film in terms of that daily sense of obligation, of responsibility, coupled with the possibility for art and expression,” Burns told Vanity Fair‘s David Kamp.

The filmmakers were hyper-conscious of avoiding the clichés of the war that had been presented onscreen in the past, also avoiding public figures like John Kerry and John McCain, who might bring a political bias to the table. (They did meet with the pair for advice and research purposes.)

The film’s soundtrack was composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (of The Social Network fame), and will also include a panoply of songs from the time, including Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and the Rolling Stones. They even landed the Beatles, a particularly difficult (and expensive) artist to include on a soundtrack.

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