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Ric Burns
Documentary Filmmaker
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Ric Burns
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One of America’s preeminent documentary filmmakers, Ric Burns is a profoundly powerful storyteller whose thought-provoking and deeply poetic films have garnered a devoted following. Best known for his Emmy Award-winning New York: A Documentary Film, Burns has told the story of America through his films, from the Mayflower and the Civil War to 9/11.

Beginning with his collaboration with brother Ken on PBS’s The Civil War, Ric Burns has been writing, directing, and producing historical documentaries for over 25 years. Variety called his PBS series New York, “Nothing short of gripping...a monumental documentary series.” TV Guide described the eighth episode — a three hour portrait of the rise and fall of the World Trade Center — as "a majestically composed eulogy.” Chronicling the city's growth and transformation during the 21st century, Episode 9: The Urban Age will premiere in 2016

The winner of six Emmy Awards and two Peabody Awards, he has directed some of the most distinguished programs for the award-winning public television series, American Experience and American Masters, including Coney Island, The Donner Party, The Way West, Ansel Adams, Eugene O’Neill, and Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film.

Coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, he completed Death and the Civil War in 2012. The film examines the transformational impact of the Civil War’s staggering death toll and the enduring legacy of that trauma on the nation, the government, and the psyche of the American people.

His documentary films We Shall Remain: Tecumseh's Vision and Into the Deep: America, Whaling & The World, an exploration of one of America’s first global industries, aired on PBS in 2009 and 2010. His 2014 work, Enquiring Minds: The Untold Story Of The Man Behind The National Enquirer, examined the history of The National Enquirer and its publisher, Generoso Pope, Jr.

In 2015, he directed American Ballet Theatre: A History and Debt of Honor: Disabled Veterans in American History for PBS. His latest film, The Pilgrims, premiered in November 2015. Through a mix of re-enactment and expert interviews, Burns uncovers the riveting, true story of the men and women of the Mayflower and the harrowing events that unfolded in their first decade in Massachusetts. Burns is at work on several new projects, including films on the Chinese Exclusion Act, the role of automobiles in the lives of African Americans in the early 20th century, the VA, and  Oliver Sacks. 

Full Bio >
  • Morning Joe: Ric Burns on "Debt of Honor" and how society views veterans
  • Ric Burns on the formation of military cemeteries during the Civil War
  • Rachel Maddow Show talking about NY, the storm, the blizzard of 1888
  • Ric Burns' 'Into The Deep'
  • Burns at the Smithsonian on History on Film (2015)
  • Trailer: The Pilgrims (2015)
  • Ric Burns speaks about 'Eugene O'Neil'
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Speaking Topics
The Making of America: From The Pilgrims and Tecumseh to the Civil War
Seeing the invisible World: The Art of Filmmaking

We all love films, but what exactly happens between the camera and the screen. How do tricks of light create universes populated by complicated people, glorious images, and immersive sound? Using clips and stories from his own award-winning documentaries, director Ric Burns takes audiences on a journey into the creative process of filmmaking, from script to screen.

“Seeing the Invisible World: The Art of Filmmaking” is a combination of sight and sound. Your audience can be treated to clips from The Civil War, New York, The Way West, Coney Island, The Donner Party, Andy Warhol, Eugene O’Neill, Ansel Adams, The Pilgrims, Death and the Civil War, Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World, and more.

One of America’s preeminent documentary filmmakers, Ric Burns is a profoundly powerful storyteller whose thought-provoking and deeply poetic films have garnered a devoted following. Best known for his Emmy Award-winning New York: A Documentary Film, Burns has told the story of America through his movies, from the Mayflower and the Civil War to 9/11.

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Celebrating the Creative Spirit: Andy Warhol, Eugene O'Neill, and Oliver Sacks

Capital of capitalism, birthplace of democracy, cauldron of the modern world: for nearly four hundred years now, New York City has been the premier urban laboratory and unofficial capital of the American dream. From its establishment in 1624 as a remote Dutch trading post, down through its emergence in the 20th century as the undisputed cultural and economic clearinghouse of the world, New York City has played a unique, and uniquely transformative, role in the development of American culture, mingling and unleashing the extraordinarily powerful and transforming forces of capitalism and democracy as no other city on earth. Walking through four hundred years of history, from the arrival of the Dutch down past the catastrophe of 9/11, Ric Burns discusses the salient forces that have driven New York upward, and made it the complex center of the modern world.

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Industry & The Environment: America, Whaling & The World

The talk will tell the riveting, dreamlike and extraordinarily rich story of the American whaling industry, from its 17th century origins in drift- and shore-whaling off the coast of New England and Cape Cod, down through the great golden age of deep-ocean whaling in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and on to the industry’s spectacular demise in the decades following the American Civil War.

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Debt of Honor: Disabled Veterans in American History

Ric Burns presents short film clips that are interspersed throughout his lectures. All film clips are customized to the topic chosen. 

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Books & Other Works
  • The Pilgrims
  • Debt Of Honor: Disabled Veterans in American History
  • American Masters: American Ballet Theatre
  • Enquiring Minds: The Untold Story Of The Man Behind The National Enquirer
  • Death and the Civil War
  • New York: The Center of the World
  • Into The Deep: America, Whaling & The World
  • We Shall Remain: Tecumseh's Vision
  • Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film
  • Eugene O'Neill: A Documentary Film
  • Ansel Adams: A Film Written & Directed by Ric Burns
  • New York: An Illustrated History
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“Ric Burns is among the most engaging speakers I have ever heard. He not only charms an audience with entertainment but enlightens. He can translate the most complex subjects and personalities into vivid narrative.”
George Polk Awards for Journalism
“Ric Burns was one of the most engaging and effective speakers that we have seen. He speaks with insight and passion, and brings to his lectures the same knowledge and artistry so characteristic of his masterful documentaries. A visit by Ric Burns will be an intellectually transformative experience for all lucky enough to hear him.”
Hanover College, Center for Free Inquiry
“Ric was an exceptional speaker and very easy to work with...Ric very graciously attended a reception after the talk and we heard lots of good comments following his lecture.”
The Mariners’ Museum
“Wanted to let you know what a wonderful lecture Ric Burns presented. He kept an audience of 400 + women quiet for an hour! His talk was very interesting and informative. He was a delight to work with.”
Town Hall of Morris
“I want you to know how much we at the Culture and Heritage Institute appreciated Ric's participation. Clearly, his material on Tecumseh is a tribute to his commitment to his artform and to the purpose it serves for the public. I particularly appreciated his desire to listen to our needs beforehand, and his interest in the context he had stepped into.”
Centennial College
“Fargo was very impressed with Ric. He did such a nice job with both the Monday night venue and the two sessions on Tuesday. Please convey to him our sincere delight in having him here for our third Town Hall lecture.”
Town Hall of Fargo
“It was great! He was very easy to work with and his talk was among the best that we've had.”
Butler University
“Ric Burns is wonderfully generous to his audiences, giving them not only salient details and juicy insights into the array of subjects he has documented so astutely over the years, but also providing an insider's guide to the potentials and limitations of the visual images that so dominate our lives. He's an artist and educator, and he's a charming speaker, full of great wit and great stories.”
Teachers & Writers Collaborative
“Ric Burns spoke beautifully to our Upper School about the history of New York City and the making of his New York films. His talk was not only full of interesting information and ideas, but also completely engaging and very moving. Faculty and students all agreed that among the many excellent speakers we have been fortunate to hear at our school, Ric Burns was one of the very best.”
The Spence School
“I've listened to Ric speak a half dozen times and find him thoughtful, generous and inspiring. And it's clear he delights in meeting and engaging with his audiences.”
WGBH National Productions
“Ric Burns brings the discussion of documentary to a new level. Going beyond the fascinating information that is so critical to his films, his commentary delves into the human impact of history, culture and tradition. Most importantly, he makes us want to know more, to learn more, to grow. Ric Burns is constantly growing as an artist and an intellectual, and he stimulates us to do the same. I am always changed after listening to Ric and always crave more.”
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
American Dream
American Indians
Film & Movies
New York City
Social Commentary
The Arts
Urban Affairs