Four-o'clock-in-the-morning courage. When I go to Double Take and other documentary venues and look at my colleagues, what I love is that we're so different. We're also, I'm sorry to say, a little suspicious because we're in such a difficult world, right, that sometimes I think people think that others are eating out of their dish. And I've had filmmakers come up to me at parties drunk and accuse me of taking the money that would have gone to them if I weren't already the Ken Burns. Which, of course, is nonsense. I work extremely hard. All that we do is extremely delicate and fragile. I think it's a kind of courage that everyone seems to have as I look across the whole wide spectrum of my colleagues, so different, male and female, black and white, straight and gay. Doing experimental, doing more classical constructions, everybody's struggling to do it right and do it well with motivations that don't begin and end with money. That involved in it is a certain amount of courage and a certain amount of sacrifice because, I think, you're absolutely right. Family life is disrupted. You go away for long periods of shooting. Editing is such a huge, almost constant twenty-four-hour-a-day thing that even when you are out of the editing room, you're sometimes lost in thought about how you figure it out. It's extremely difficult, and yet, there is some just indescribable satisfaction from doing something free of the marketplace that touches, reaches, moves, changes people. And that's great, because the doing of it has done that to you.
And you just hope—we used to have arguments in film class at Hampshire College about whether films actually did anything or preached to the converted. My first film on the Brooklyn Bridge came out, and a year later, they broadcast it on public television at the time of its birthday and there on the front page of the New York Times is a couple and their kids from Idaho walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, and I turned to the story deep in the D section. And about twenty paragraphs in they said that they decided to take their vacation in New York because they'd seen a documentary on public television about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. And the first thing they wanted to do when they got to New York was walk their kids across the Brooklyn Bridge and tell them the dramatic and heroic story of how it was built. And I clipped out the article, my first film, and sent it back to my film teacher and said, "You know what, it isn't just preaching to the converted." Which had been the cynical consensus of those classes, but in fact people do learn something. And after Civil War, battlefield attendance in every Civil War battlefield went up, and when I did a film on Thomas Jefferson suddenly they were flooded at Monticello, and, you know, that's a good thing. People read more and think more about the subjects that I've done, and I love that.
It's the best kind of connection to people because they've given, in the case of Baseball, eighteen-and-a-half hours of their lives to something I've done. Jazz, seventeen and a half; Civil War, eleven and a half; some of these shorter films, four hours over several nights, in some cases, and they're willing to talk about it or sit down and write me a letter. I get thousands of letters a year. I'm just stunned, and I write back to each one of them and say thank you—I have to.
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