Ken Burns

Ken Burns

Documentarian & Filmmaker

Florentine Films

Walpole, New Hampshire USA

We cannot proscribe any kind of thing for the other. We can only wish that the conditions are such that they are able to do what their heart wants to do.


By Roadtrip Nation

Ken Burns

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My road in life has been direct.
My mom died of cancer when I was 11 years old—after her death, my father was very strict on my brother and me, but he would forgive our strict curfews if we were watching a movie.
At 12 years old, I decided I wanted to become a filmmaker after seeing my father feel free to cry and release his emotions while watching a movie.
I initially wanted to be a Hollywood filmmaker, but was redirected toward documentaries in college because most of my professors were documentarians.
I had always been interested in American history—I realized I could merge my two passions in filmmaking and history, and make a career out of it.
When working on my first film about the Brooklyn Bridge, my landlord was raising my rent and I thought I’d have to get a “real job”...but I realized that then I wouldn’t be able to achieve my dreams.
I moved to rural New Hampshire to get away from the corporate model of filmmaking and learn how to edit without that financial worry.
My first film was nominated for an Academy Award for best feature documentary—people assumed I’d move back to New York but I decided to stay in New Hampshire and go against the grain.
I’ve since created a variety of documentaries on U.S. history subjects, including the Civil War, the Roosevelts, and baseball—my work has earned two Academy Award nominations and multiple Emmy Awards.
Keep following my journey


High School
Cinematography and Film/Video Production
Hampshire College


Documentarian & Filmmaker

I make historical documentary films and series.

Career Roadmap

My work combines:
My work combines:
Communicating / Sharing Stories

Skills & Qualities Beyond School

My job takes a lot of self-reflection. You have to ask yourself who you are and whether or not you have something to say.

Advice for Getting Started

Here's the first step for everyone

I can't tell you how to become a filmmaker because each person's path is their own. I do advise periodically evaluating yourself to determine if filmmaking is what inly rejoices. It takes a courage to realize and admit that you don't have something to say and filmmaking isn't for you. Make sure you put effort into self-evaluation so you don't waste your life on a dream that isn't really yours. Whatever you're doing, you'll know you're making a right step if you feel a spark of authenticity.


The Noise I Shed

From Peers:

"We won't support your film. You're too young to be a filmmaker."

Challenges I Overcame

Death and Loss