Where to stream Ken Burns amazing, in-depth documentaries.
Burns’s Academy Award-nominated first feature, from 1981, pays tribute to the Brooklyn Bridge — a majestic feat of engineering that the director frames as a symbol of the indomitable American spirit. While making this documentary, Burns pioneered what came to be known as the Ken Burns effect, whereby the camera slowly pans across or zooms into a still photo. When a viewer at an early screening asked him where he’d found all the footage of the bridge’s construction, he was confused until he realized that those dynamic shots had given her the impression that his archival stills were actually moving images. (The film is often packaged today as the first installment of Burns’s “America” collection.)
Burns frequently profiles historic figures, but “Defying the Nazis” tells the story of two American heroes who never became household names. Years before the United States entered World War II, a Unitarian minister named Waitstill Sharp and his wife, Martha, traveled from their Massachusetts home to Czechoslovakia, where they helped Jews and members of other vulnerable groups escape the Nazis. Burns collaborated with the Sharps’ grandson Artemis Joukowsky to recount their courageous mission in a film that features interviews with people who knew the couple, along with letters read by Tom Hanks and Marina Goldman.