Novick and Burns revisit history in documentary series ‘The Vietnam War’

Lynn Novick has once again teamed up with documentarian Ken Burns to co-direct the upcoming PBS series The Vietnam War.

“Ken turned to me and said ‘OK, I think we can really try to do Vietnam now,’ and I said, ‘I’m in. I’ve been in since day one, I’ve always wanted to do this story,’” Novick said in a PBS preview of the 10-part series, which will begin Sunday Sept. 17 and conclude on Sept. 28.

Washington Post critic Hank Stuever calls it “required viewing,” its 18 hours “a length as daunting as its subject, yet worth every single minute of your time.”

Previous collaborations between Novick and Burns include Prohibition, Baseball and the Emmy-winning seven-part series The War.

“By the time we were finishing [The War] we knew that we were in some ways obligated to jump into Vietnam,” Burns said.

Their knack for presenting historical context through compelling documentary series has been repeatedly recognized, and Novick is more than just a footnote in Burns’ bibliography. Their work together dates back to the 11-hour 1990 series The Civil War. The particular modern-day relevance of Vietnam is what ultimately drew them to telling this story, despite its deeply-felt presence in our culture.

“There’s been a lot done about this subject. Books, documentaries, feature films, novels. I mean, it’s not like no one’s ever tried. But it remains this kind of unfinished business in American history,” Novick said. New York Times editor Susan Ellingwood even compiled a list published Sept. 15 in honor of the series: “20 Must-Read Books on The Vietnam War,” including The Things They Carried and Father, Soldier, Son.

New York Times chief television critic James Poniewozik compares the exceptionally-somber tone of The Vietnam War to other Burns-Novick projects. “The Civil War was mournful, but at least the Union was preserved. The War ended with fascism defeated. The war in Vietnam offers no uplift or happy ending. It’s simply decades of bad decision after bad decision, a wasteful vortex that devoured lives for nothing.”

A decade in the making, the prolific co-directors believe the time is now for viewers to delve back into the complicated, painful history of the era with The Vietnam War.

“In order to move on as a country at all, we have to really understand what happened,” Novick said. “And we’ve never done that with Vietnam.”

© Georgiana E. Presecky (9/15/17)


Featured Photo: Ken Burns and Lynn Novick at a TCA event this summer. © USA Today

Middle Photo: PBS promotional poster for the upcoming documentary series. © PBS

Bottom Photo: PBS promotional image for the upcoming historical series. © PBS

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