Less than two weeks until highly-anticipated series hits PBS, streaming
Before HBO's The Jinx, before Netflix' Making a Murderer, Ken Burns owned the documentary miniseries. His latest multipart effort, The Vietnam War, co-directedy by Lynn Novick, spans 18 hours over 10 episodes. The first installment is set to debut on PBS stations Sunday, September 17 (it becomes available for streaming the same day).
Burns and Novick, who previously collaborated on The War (about World War II), Prohibition, Baseball and other series, spent a decade working on the Vietnam project, according to PBS.
...The epic story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history.
"The Vietnam War tells the epic story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history as it has never before been told on film," PBS wrote about the program. "Visceral and immersive, the series explores the human dimensions of the war through revelatory testimony of nearly 80 witnesses from all sides—Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as combatants and civilians from North and South Vietnam."
"The decades have passed and it's important now to go back and try and understand it," Burns said in a two-minute promo posted online. "This is without a doubt the most ambitious project that we have ever undertaken."
PBS has released a :30 trailer:
With each passing year, of course, the Vietnam War recedes further into history. Yet if anyone doubts the relevance of the miniseries, consider that for three of the past four American presidents, military service in Vietnam -- or, rather, lack thereof -- has become an issue. Of presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama and Trump, only Obama -- who was 14 when the war ended in 1975 -- did not face questions about his activities during Vietnam.
The New York Times and many other news outlets have reported Trump received four education deferments to avoid service in Vietnam. After graduating from college In 1968, at the height of the war, Trump received a medical deferment for bone spurs in his heels (this good fortune did not inhibit him in 2015 from criticizing Sen. John McCain, a navy pilot during Vietnam, for being captured and held prisoner by the North Vietnamese).
John Kerry's valorous service during Vietnam, ostensibly a strong suit of his presidential candidacy in 2004, became if anything a liability against George W. Bush, after a GOP-funded Vietnam veterans group "swiftboated" him.
These examples from presidential politics give just a small indication of the continuing impact on the country of the Vietnam War.
To capture the dimensions of the subject matter, the filmmakers drew from diverse materials, PBS noted: "The series includes rarely seen and digitally re-mastered archival footage from sources around the globe, photographs taken by some of the most celebrated photojournalists of the 20th Century, historic television broadcasts, evocative home movies, and secret audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations."
Two photos from the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick series, The Vietnam War. Courtesy PBS
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and Documentary.org.