Burns Won't Reedit 'War,' PBS Clarifies

Ken Burns, at his Walpole, N.H., office earlier this month, agreed to film additional material on Latino service members but is not re-editing his WWII documentary.
Ken Burns, at his Walpole, N.H., office earlier this month, agreed to film additional material on Latino service members but is not re-editing his WWII documentary. (By Jim Cole -- Associated Press)
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2007

A PBS official said yesterday that filmmaker Ken Burns will not re-cut his documentary on World War II -- a statement that disappointed and angered minority-group activists who on Tuesday said they believed Burns and PBS had committed to reediting the film to address their concerns about its content.

Programming chief John Wilson, seeking to clarify PBS's earlier statements, said yesterday that Burns's 14 1/2 -hour documentary, "The War," is complete. That statement, however, leaves unresolved the complaints from some Latino and American Indian organizations, which have been pressing Burns and PBS for months to incorporate into the film material about Latino and American Indian service members.

Burns has resisted any suggestion that he is changing "The War," despite his agreement to film additional material to try to address advocates' concerns. A spokesman for Burns insisted yesterday that the filmmaker isn't "reediting" his work, as The Washington Post reported yesterday.

But a PBS spokesman had told The Post on Tuesday that the new footage would be "seamlessly" added to the film, which is scheduled to air in September.

Members of advocacy groups said they left a series of meetings with Burns and PBS officials on Tuesday gratified by apparent assurances that changes to the main documentary were forthcoming. During Tuesday's morning meeting, PBS President Paula Kerger introduced a Texas documentarian, Hector Galan, who has been hired to help Burns produce new material about the estimated 500,000 people of Latino descent who fought in World War II.

Some of the disagreement over Burns's -- and PBS's -- intentions turns on small but critical semantic distinctions, particularly whether the unproduced new material will be a "part" of "The War," or instead air as a supplement.

Latino advocates are wary that the additional content that Burns has promised will appear during breaks in the film, or otherwise outside the main story arc. They insist that the new material should be part of the story itself, which focuses on the wartime experiences of four towns or cities in different regions of the country.

But that will not be the case, according to Burns's representative and Wilson.

"It does not satisfy our concerns to be an amendment or some kind of addendum" to the documentary, said Raul Tapia, a spokesman for the American G.I. Forum, a Latino veterans organization. Latinos "who contributed so much to winning the war deserve better. They are not an addendum. They stood up for their country, and we are standing up for them."

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus also met yesterday about the issue. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a member of the group, issued a statement last night, saying: "Ken Burns is a well-known filmmaker, and whether it's fair or not, his films are viewed by many as definitive histories. It is socially responsible and historically accurate to include the invaluable contributions of Hispanic Americans not as a footnote, but as part of the actual story of World War II.

"The way PBS has handled this since the issue was raised has left a lot to be desired."

Over the years, Burns has drawn criticism from Latinos for his PBS series "Baseball" and "Jazz." Some critics from advocacy groups also contend that in those documentaries, he downplayed or overlooked the contributions of Latinos.

Burns's spokesman, Joe DePlasco, said that while Burns "will not re-cut his film, which is done, he does believe strongly that these additional stories will be a valuable and important contribution to the broadcast and the national discussion about World War II."

PBS's Wilson, trying to navigate yesterday between the advocacy groups and Burns -- the network's most famous producer -- said that the new footage that Burns produces "will be part of the broadcast" of the film, its DVD and teaching materials that accompany it.

"To the viewer at home, it will be part of the same contiguous experience" as the documentary itself, he said, with "the same tone and tenor and production qualities" of the documentary.

When pressed, however, he acknowledged that Burns's original work won't be recut to incorporate the stories of Latino and American Indian service members or their families -- the key demand of the interest groups.

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