Majestic to Host First-Ever Ken Burns Film Festival | Local News


The Majestic Theater at Gettysburg College will host the first-ever film festival devoted entirely to director Ken Burns, whose award-winning documentaries include the 1990 Public Broadcasting System (PBS) series “The Civil War.”

Burns is due to attend “Who Are We: A Festival Celebrating the Films of Ken Burns,” which is scheduled for February 10-12 next year.

“Festival-goers will engage with Burns, his collaborators, historians, and students at Gettysburg College in meaningful conversations about the simple question that Burns has explored in all of his films about American history: Who are we?” according to a statement from the college.

“I am honored and so grateful for this opportunity to share our films through this festival and join many of my colleagues in a conversation about our art form – and the history of our country,” said Burns, according to the press release.

The event will mark “the first time the vast majority of his work has been shown on the big screen,” said the Majestic Theatre’s director of marketing and group sales, Jessica Rudy. Much of Burns’ work over 40 years has aired on PBS.

Screenings are to include two new thematic reels compiled and presented by Burns, documentary episodes from Burns’ entire career, a marathon 11.5-hour presentation of “The Civil War.”

Specific reel themes are TBD, Rudy said.

Plans also include breakout sessions with historians, filmmakers and collaborators on Burns’ projects, such as musicians Jay Ungar and Molly, who performed “Ashokan Farewell,” the main theme from “The Civil War.”

Longtime Burns collaborators, including writer Geoffrey Ward, producer Sarah Botstein and cinematographer Buddy Squires, as well as Kevin Richardson, one of five teenagers wrongfully convicted of raping a white woman in New York, whose story is told in Burns’ “The Central Park Five”.

Most events will be free, but all will require tickets.

Tickets should be available starting June 17 at the theater box office, 25 Carlisle St., Gettysburg, by phone at 717-337-8200 or online at

Tickets for a Friday night opening program with Burns and for both highlights presentations will cost $29 per person, per event, while festival passes will cost $75.

The concept of the festival has local roots.

The film festival was inspired by a conversation Gettysburg native and filmmaker Jake Boritt had with his friend Burns over the summer of 2020. Shortly after returning to the historic Adams County farm after many years in Harlem, Boritt began to think about how Gettysburg would benefit from such an event.

“Ken Burns’ epic film ‘Civil War’ transformed Americans’ understanding of the defining event in our history, made Ken a national icon telling our story, sparked a renewed interest in Gettysburg and inspired to become a documentary filmmaker,” the press release quotes Boritt as saying. Boritt is also a documentary filmmaker, whose work includes “The Gettysburg Story.” He is also the son of the late Gettysburg College history professor Gabor Boritt.

After speaking with Burns, Boritt, who is the director of the festival, approached Gettysburg College president Bob Iuliano and Majestic Theater founding executive director Jeffrey Gabel with the idea.

The festival wouldn’t have happened without a committee made up of Boritt, Iuliano, Gabel, senior college leaders and “incredibly supportive” college alumni, some of whom live in Adams County, Rudy said.

Burns is to meet with college students “to engage them in many of the civic and historical themes that appear in Ken’s films,” Rudy said. Campus departments are building complementary programs “using Ken’s work as a focus,” Rudy said.

“Few individuals throughout our nation’s history have had a more profound impact on American discourse than Ken Burns. His timeless works challenge us to see our country from new perspectives and encourage us to engage with the defining issues of our time. We are both thrilled and grateful to have the opportunity to showcase Ken’s artistry at this one-of-a-kind film festival,” Iuliano said, according to the statement.

Burns has a long connection to Gettysburg through his 1990 film “Civil War.”

“Gettysburg is both a place of memory and imagination. It is of course a burial place for those who fought there – from North and South – but it is also where President Lincoln envisioned a new country, a country where the values ​​we associate with the founding of our country have taken on new meaning. Our work tries to present the past in all its complexity, bringing together individual stories into larger narratives,” Burns said.

In the mid-1980s, he and his brother Ric, along with their colleagues, embarked on the creation of the documentary in a multi-year process that allowed Burns to refine the style of filmmaking that became his trademark and that of of its collaborators: a careful use of photographic archives, modern live cinematography, music, narration and first-person accounts.

The broadcast in nine episodes of the documentary, seen by 40 million Americans on PBS in September 1990, caused a sensation. Burns and the series won the inaugural Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, awarded in 1991 at Gettysburg College. In 1994 he received an honorary degree from Gettysburg College, and in 2008 he once again returned to Gettysburg to speak at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery on the 145th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. In 2020, he helped launch Gettysburg: Beyond the Battle, the $10 million capital campaign to build a new home for the Adams County Historical Society.

The main event will feature a screening of “The Universe of Battle,” the fifth episode of “The Civil War,” which focuses on the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, Rudy said.

To participate in a post-screening discussion, Burns, Boritt and Allen Guelzo, best-selling author of award-winning books including “Gettysburg: The Last Invasion,” Rudy said.

Guelzo, a former history professor at Gettysburg College, is now a senior fellow at Princeton University’s Council for the Humanities and director of the James Madison Program Initiative in Politics and Politics.

Burns has been making documentary films about the history of America and its people for over 40 years. Since the Oscar-nominated “Brooklyn Bridge” in 1981, Burns and his colleagues at Florentine Films have directed and produced some of the most acclaimed historical documentaries about war, racism and presidential leadership.

Burns’ catalog is too extensive to include in its entirety, so the festival must include material chosen to be “particularly poignant” and “useful for students to discuss and use in their lessons,” Rudy said.

Among the free screenings are portions of 2007’s ‘The War’ about World War II, 2017’s ‘The Vietnam War’, 2014’s ‘The Roosevelts’, 2019’s ‘Country Music’, Rudy said.

In addition to the marathon screening of “The Civil War” over two days, two other films are to be screened in their entirety, Rudy said. “Brooklyn Bridge” is scheduled to screen before the main event. A screening of 2012’s “The Central Park Five” is also scheduled.

The festival will use all three venues at the Majestic, including its two movie theaters as well as its historic auditorium, Rudy said.

“Given the Majestic began as a small-town movie theatre, it has a remarkable cinematic history, including the resident and Mrs. Eisenhower as regular patrons after her retirement from the White House, the first American in 1970 of Federico Fellini’s famous masterpiece, Satyricon, and the 1993 world premiere of Ron Maxwell’s Civil War epic Gettysburg. Hosting the first-ever festival dedicated solely to Ken Burns films is a huge honor, as well as a testament to how historic theaters continue to contribute to the vitality of small towns across America,” said Gabel.

The film festival represents the growing confluence of history, arts and culture in Gettysburg, which has allowed local residents and nearly one million annual visitors to experience Gettysburg beyond the battlefield of the civil war. From incredible farm-to-table cuisine and craft breweries and distilleries, to state-of-the-art museums, seasonal festivals, and immersive arts and cultural experiences, Gettysburg continues to evolve and thrive as a tourist destination. The Majestic Theater itself attracts more than 45,000 visitors locally and from across the United States each year.

The historic 1925 Majestic Theater at the Jennifer and David LeVan Performing Arts Center is owned and operated by Gettysburg College and has always enriched the cultural life of the Gettysburg community. When it opened, the Majestic was the largest vaudeville and silent film theater in south-central Pennsylvania, and was modernized and updated throughout the 20th century.

A fire destroyed the adjacent hotel in 1983, and in 1988 the hotel and theater were acquired by Gettysburg College. After the hotel reopened in 1991, attention turned to restoring the Majestic Theatre. Closed for construction in 2004, the theater was preserved, renovated, and reopened in November 2005 following a $16.5 million project to transform it into a world-class performing arts center.

The Majestic is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the Majestic includes the historic 800-seat auditorium, two cinemas with stadium seating, an art gallery, cafe and a 20,000 square foot backstage production facility. The theater is open year-round with daily programming including live shows, first-run independent films, and movie classics. The center also serves as a rehearsal and performance venue for the Sunderman Conservatory of Music at Gettysburg College.


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