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Renowned Documentarian Ken Burns to Speak at Fall Honors Convocation

Ken burns
Ken burns

Legendary filmmaker Ken Burns is the guest speaker for this year’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College fall convocation at the University of Mississippi.

Set for 7 p.m. October 27 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, the lecture is free and open to the public; however, tickets are required. Free tickets, which are limited to two per person, will be available starting at noon October 16 at the UM Box Office in the Student Union. Box Office hours are 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Mondays-Fridays.

Burns, considered one of the most influential filmmakers in the world, has been making documentary films for more than 40 years. He has won 13 Emmy awards and two Oscar nominations. In 2008, Burns was honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Award. His first visit to Oxford coincides with the 25th anniversary of his award-winning film, The Civil War.

The event is presented by the Honors College in conjunction with the Meek School of Journalism and New Media and the UM College of Liberal Arts. Bruce Levingston, Honors College artist-in-residence, has known Burns for a number of years and played an integral role in bringing the filmmaker to campus.

In addition to Burns’ address and a screening of highlights from his films, the convocation will include an open-ended conversation between Levingston and Burns about his filmmaking and historical topics of interest.

The Civil War memorably brought this country’s most significant internal conflict into the homes and hearts of millions of U.S. citizens and helped our country develop an understanding and dialogue about who we are as Americans,” Levingston said. “It is particularly significant that Ken Burns is coming to the University of Mississippi and Oxford in this anniversary year of that film since this is such an iconic place that continues to play such an important role in the ongoing dialogue of our Southern – as well as national – identity.”

In addition to The Civil War, Burns has made several other acclaimed documentaries, including Baseball (1994), Jazz (2001), The War (2007), The National Parks: America’s Best Ideas (2009), Prohibition (2011), The Central Park Five (2012) and The Roosevelts (2014).

Burns’ itinerary will include tours of the university and other historical sites, such as a special visit to Rowan Oak, the home of William Faulkner.

But Levingston said he is most excited for Burns to interact with Ole Miss students. Burns will take part in Levingston’s course, Art and the Republic, a class that Levingston said is filled with some of the brightest students he has ever encountered.

“In a class that investigates art’s impact on society, there are few figures in America more appropriate to study than Ken Burns,” honors student Jesse Webb said. “The filmmaker’s adept use of art to dictate a clear, strong message is a skill that students of all schools and disciplines should aspire to. I am honored by the opportunity to meet and talk with an artist of such acclaim, one whose films have educated and directed our national discourse for more than 30 years.”

Honors College Dean Douglas Sullivan-Gonzalez agrees that Burns’ visit represents an extraordinary moment for UM students.

“Ken Burns combines the incandescent questions of the past with the archival footprints of the ordinary and extraordinary citizen in the Civil War, during the period of the Roosevelts, in America’s game of baseball and in our love of the national parks,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. “What an incredible opportunity to share a moment with an amazing intellectual such as Ken Burns.”

Burns’ visit presents not only a splendid opportunity for Ole Miss students and the community, but it also serves as a wonderful occasion to introduce Burns to Mississippi, Levingston said.

“I would like Ken to leave our state feeling that we are a people coming to terms with who we are, with our past, our present and our future,” Levingston said. “I hope that he will feel the special spirit of generosity, kindness and hope that exists among so many Mississippians and that he will be better able to tell the world about our amazing, complex and rich history and people.”

For more information, contact Penny Leeton at pleeton@olemiss.edu or 662-915-7266.

By Kelley Norris

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