PBS documentary adds material after Hispanic outcry

[12 July 2007]

By David Bianculli

New York Daily News (MCT)

LOS ANGELES - Pressure from Latino groups to include their perspective in “The War,” the upcoming 15-hour documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, has succeeded in adding their stories to the presentation. But Burns said the changes won’t alter the narrative that has already been constructed.

“There’s been a kind of hot political battle, and we tried to rise above it and respond as best we could,” Burns said of the controversy.

“We included it,” Burns said of approximately 28 minutes of new material, “at the end of three of the episodes.”

Those clips will be included at the ends of the first, fifth and sixth episodes, before closing credits but after Burns’ original cut of the film.

“It doesn’t alter the vision of the film that we made and completed a year and a half ago,” he said, referring to the period the work was assembled. “But it also adds stories.”

Those stories include a Native American perspective and other viewpoints as well.

Burns said the additional material is done in the same style as the rest of “The War.” He noted that he was up against a tight deadline - “The War” launches Sept. 23, 17 years after his epic “Civil War” began.

“It’s as far as we can go,” he said.

“I think we’ve found the right balance, had the right compromise, that permitted us not to alter our original vision and version of the film,” he said, “and, at the same time, honor what was legitimate about the concerns about a group of people who, for 500 years, have had their story untold in American history.”

PBS president Paula Kerger said she applauded Burns for reaching an agreement with the network and the Latino groups.

Burns said it was “our obligation to listen, and to hear” from Hispanic groups that were protesting.

“It was, of course, painful to us on one level that people would misinterpret what the film was about,” he added. “But we didn’t have the luxury of abstracting this.

“These people,” he said, referring to World War II veterans, “are dying - 1,500 a day is now the statistic.”

Kerger denied she had been less than supportive of Burns when changes were demanded. “I have stood by Ken, and the story he wants to bring before the American public,” she said.

One more skirmish regarding “The War” still remains: the question of possibly offensive language, included in fewer than a handful of spots in the documentary. The references explain wartime acronyms like “fubar” and “snafu.” (In both cases, the F stands for the F-word.) On that issue, Kerger said she’d let local PBS stations decide whether to air edited or unedited versions.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/pbs-documentary-adds-material-after-hispanic-outcry/