By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Filmmaker Ken Burns agreed yesterday to re-cut his PBS documentary on World War II to include footage about the contributions of Latino and American Indian service members -- and not to present the material apart from his 14 1/2 -hour series.
Burns's pledge to integrate an unspecified amount of footage into "The War" was made yesterday at a meeting in Washington with representatives of several organizations that have protested the film, which is scheduled to air in September. They contend that the series underplays the role of Latinos and American Indians in the war effort.
This is the first time that Burns -- who produced such PBS documentaries as "Baseball," "Jazz" and the monumental "Civil War" -- has agreed to alter one of his films as a result of public pressure.
The organizations -- including the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Council of La Raza -- were not mollified by PBS's pledge last week that Burns would add material. PBS had declared that the film already was complete.
PBS's statement last week raised concerns that new material would appear "as an add-on before a break," said Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, a University of Texas journalism professor who earlier this year helped rally a coalition of groups.
"We didn't want it to be an afterthought," said Rivas-Rodriguez, who directs the university's U.S. Latino and Latina World War II Oral History Project.
"When he started he had one idea, but he's been questioned about it and made to realize that doing it between breaks was not really going to cut it."
During yesterday's afternoon meeting, Burns told members of the coalition that wartime contributions of Latinos and American Indians would be incorporated into the film, including the DVD version, and in teaching materials that will accompany it.
At an earlier meeting yesterday with Latino leaders and members of Congress, Burns and PBS President Paula Kerger introduced Austin documentarian Hector Galan, who will work with Burns to produce additional footage. Galan has produced several documentaries, including "Chicano! History of the Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement" in 1996 for PBS.
Galan offered few specifics on what might be added, but his hiring was a welcome step, said Ivan Roman, the executive director of the Hispanic journalists' association. "He's very well-respected," Roman said. "Whatever it's going to be, it's not going to be a patch or something just slapped together."
Roman called the meeting "a good-faith effort." Still, he cautioned that "the proof will be in the pudding."
Although "The War" isn't scheduled to air till the fall, the deadline for the DVD version is mid-June, giving Burns and Galan limited time to interview, shoot, write and reedit the documentary.
Burns and his crew spoke with more than 500 people for the project, but apparently no Latino or Native American veterans were interviewed. The narrative is weaved around the wartime experiences of people in four towns: Sacramento; Waterbury, Conn.; Mobile, Ala.; and Luverne, Minn.
Burns was not available for comment yesterday. PBS spokeswoman Lea Sloan, who attended the private meetings, said Burns's statements yesterday should clear up any confusion about how the new material would be used.
Sloan said the decision to change the film was based on a number of conversations with the various groups. "We listened," she said. "It's a judgment call. We judge [complaints] on the merits and decide."
Last week, PBS programming chief John Wilson said that Burns's film was complete and that new material would be placed within the documentary's "footprint" -- raising concerns among some advocates.
Sloan said new material would be "seamlessly" integrated into the film. "We hope this clarifies the situation," she said.
In a separate action, Burns and PBS agreed yesterday to help the Library of Congress collect oral histories of the war for the library's Veterans History Project. Since its inception in 2000, the project has collected interviews with about 45,000 veterans. Burns will contribute a "field guide" to the project, providing advice to amateur interviewers on lighting, interviewing and videotaping.