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Ken Burns Gets Personal With 'The Roosevelts'

“No other family has touched as many Americans as the Roosevelts,” documentary filmmaker Ken Burns said at a Monday National Press Club lunch about his new film, "The Roosevelts." The three share a “complicated, Russian-novel of a story,” that has never been shared as one multifaceted narrative.  

This is your week to grab all the Roosevelt you can handle. “The Roosevelts” debuted on PBS stations Sunday night and the network will broadcast the entire 14-hour, seven-part series during primetime evenings this week, with the last episode on Sept. 20.  

A few snippets of what you’ll discover in this Burns-epic of the presidential family: Teddy never stopped outrunning his demons. Franklin tried to be everything to everyone. Eleanor overcame a seemingly impossible childhood. The film covers from Theodore’s birth in 1858 to Eleanor’s death in 1962, while keeping a steady eye on the monumental changes America experienced in that century.  

Burns, a documentarily filmmaker for more than 30 years, spoke of the Roosevelt trio with an earned intimacy at the sold-out luncheon. He introduced his reasoning for making this new epic, saying it’s been a conceptual dream for decades, shared with his colleague Geoffrey Ward, a writer and historian who also attended the event with Burns on Monday.  

“We tend to form conventional and superficial wisdom about subjects,” Burns said. He wants this documentary to let viewers move past the labels associated with these towering figures in American history. He shows the Roosevelts to be human: flawed, influenced and driven.  

Other attendees at the luncheon included Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt, the U.S. chief of protocol from 1982-89 and the wife of the late Archie Roosevelt; Nik Apostolides, the deputy director of the Capitol Visitor Center and a co-organizer of the event; and Paula Kerger, the president and CEO of PBS.  

At the end of the event, as attendees were nibbling on Teddy, Eleanor and FDR-themed cupcakes, Burns shared what’s next on his list of projects. He has five films in the works, with pieces on the history of cancer (due spring 2015), the life of Jackie Robinson, the war in Vietnam (due in 2017), the history of country music and a biography of Ernest Hemingway.  

Want even more? There’s a free Ken Burns app on iTunes, with film snippets and music, centered on “themes” of knowledge. The full-version of the app, with more content, costs $9.99.  

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