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Ken Burns, acclaimed documentary filmmaker, to receive 2018 Christopher Life Achievement Award


Photo by Tim Llewellyn Photography

Tony Rossi - published on 04/24/18

"He doesn’t approach history as dry facts. Instead, it’s about stories."

The Christopher Life Achievement Award will be presented to documentary filmmaker Ken Burns at the 69th annual Christopher Awards ceremony on Thursday, May 17th, for his decades-long career exploring the important people, places, and events of American history, focusing always on the power of the human spirit.

The award recognizes individuals whose personal and professional contributions to making the world a better place have left an indelible mark on our culture. Previous winners include jazz legend Dave Brubeck, actor Carroll O’Connor, and author/historian David McCullough.

“One of the most admirable aspects of Ken Burns’ approach to filmmaking,” says The Christophers’ Director of Communications Tony Rossi, “is that he doesn’t approach history as dry facts. Instead, it’s about stories, human connections, and the emotions and experiences that bind us together by transcending time and place. And while Ken knows that America and its citizens have sometimes fallen short of their own ideals, his films ultimately convey a spirit of hope that we learn from our mistakes to become better as a people and a nation. For that reason, The Christophers are honored to present Ken Burns with our 2018 Christopher Life Achievement Award.”

Ken Burns has been making films for almost 40 years. Since the Academy Award-nominated and Christopher Award-winning Brooklyn Bridge in 1981, he has gone on to direct and produce some of the most acclaimed historical documentaries ever made, including six other Christopher Award winners: The Statue of Liberty, The Civil War, Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Jazz, Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip, and The War.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1953, Burns graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1975 and went on to be one of the co-founders of Florentine Films. His passion for history guided his filmmaking because, as he said in a 1990 interview with American Heritage magazine, “It is the great arrogance of the present to forget the intelligence of the past.”

A December 2002 poll conducted by Real Screen Magazine listed The Civil War as second only to Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North as the “most influential documentary of all time.” In March 2009, David Zurawik of The Baltimore Sun said, “… Burns is not only the greatest documentarian of the day, but also the most influential filmmaker period … I say that because Burns not only turned millions of persons onto history with his films, he showed us a new way of looking at our collective past and ourselves.” The late historian Stephen Ambrose said of his films, “More Americans get their history from Ken Burns than any other source.”

Films by Burns have won 15 Emmy Awards and two Oscar nominations, and in September of 2008, at the News & Documentary Emmy Awards, he was honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

In September 2017, PBS broadcast The Vietnam War, a 10-episode, 18-hour series Burns co-directed with Lynn Novick that helped prompt a national conversation about the most significant event in American history during the last half of the 20th century. Future projects include films on the history of Country Music, Ernest Hemingway, Muhammad Ali, Benjamin Franklin, the American Revolution, the history of Crime and Punishment in America, Lyndon B. Johnson and Civil Rights, Leonardo da Vinci, the history of Reconstruction, and Winston Churchill, among others.

The Christophers, a nonprofit organization, is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition of service to God and humanity. The ancient Chinese proverb —“It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”— serves as the Christopher motto and guides its publishing, radio, online and awards programs. More information is available at

(Follow The Christophers on Facebook and Twitter.)

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