A lone violin strain meanders through a long, close up pan of a photograph of three enthusiastic faces. As the camera opens to a wide shot, we see three bare-chested college males, with the letters K-E-N painted on their respective chests. A fully clothed, equally enthusiastic female student holding up an exclamation point stands next to documentary filmmaker and director Ken Burns.
For more than 25 years, Ken Burns — who will be the fourth Bryan Series speaker this year — has tackled subjects as diverse as jazz, baseball, national parks, prohibition, Frank Lloyd Wright and war. His films and miniseries are visually compelling and don’t shy away from controversy or tragedy. His style of slowly panning across and zooming into and out of still photographs, as described above, is now known as the “Ken Burns effect” in popular Apple software applications.
Closer to home, “The Ken Burns Effect” is also the title of an indie film, an homage to the documentarian. Created by Guilford alums, Matt Haselton ’07, Aaron DeMoss ’07, Nate Miller ’07, Tia Shuyler and Erin Burns ’07 — no relation — “The Ken Burns Effect” will pick up where the group left off eight years ago, the last time Ken Burns was here, when the then-students took the aforementioned photograph.
Since that momentous photo-opp, the avid group of Burnsiacs has moved on to take on real jobs and live their lives.
“We have kept in touch and we have drifted apart,” said Shuyler.
At the news of Ken Burns’ return to Guilford College, memories of that spring day eight years ago surfaced.
“We began to exchange emails, talking about planning a trip back to our alma mater to witness this auspicious event, almost as rare as a comet,” said Shuyler. “We decided that the only way to truly and properly pay homage to our hero was to document our trip –– our reunion, our odyssey, our pilgrimage –– in the way he taught us.”
Erin Burns and Shuyler, “The Ken Burns Effect” producers, have been at work whipping things into shape, fundraising, travel coordinating and wrangling cast and crew. Plans are afoot to make the most of the trip to Greensboro. The group plans to visit places and indulge in activities showcased in Ken Burns’ documentaries.
“We are planning a GuilCo caravan, starting in the DC metro area and traveling southward,” Erin Burns said. “We plan on stopping at a Civil War battlefield, likely Gettysburg, a slight northern detour, drinking moonshine prohibition-style, listening to jazz, and visiting a National Park.”
The group is planning several activities on campus in preparation for the big event on March 27.
“We are very much hoping that Mr. Burns will have time to meet with us on the day of the Bryan Series event,” Shuyler said “We are in touch with his assistant and are eagerly waiting to hear back.”
“As for the Guilford kids’ involvement, we’re thinking about a) encouraging everyone to show up in costume, b) screen printing “Burns Returns” t-shirts at the Greenleaf on Monday, c) filming these folks as they share their love of Ken Burns,” said Erin Burns. “Also, we might need a volunteer or two to help with the sound equipment. We’re definitely interviewing Kent Chabotar and hopefully Max Carter, who may be out of town. Tragic.”
“The Ken Burns Effect” Logistics Manager Ted Wilkinson ’07 has been working on the local front of project, taking care of accommodations and scheduling activities in Greensboro.
“It’s the culmination of a dream that many of us have had, to make a film about and with one of our heroes,” said Wilkinson. “At least we hope he will be in it. Frankly I’m excited about the project, not only for the wonderful idea and great time it’s going to be, but also for getting to see many of my old Guilford friends I haven’t seen in years.”
“We are really hoping that students and the greater Guilford community will join us in our celebration of Ken Burns and his films,“ said Shuyler “Whether that means getting on camera to tell us about what Burns has meant in their lives, or showing up to the event itself in a Burnsian costume. We can’t wait to get back to campus and we are looking forward to meeting lots of new Guilford Ken Burnsiacs.”