PBS filmmaker scores important victory

Ken Burns is no stranger to Texas Panhandle viewers of public television. Indeed, we’ll be treated to an encore presentation soon of his two-part series, “The Dust Bowl,” which will be rebroadcast on KACV-TV.

Thus, those who appreciate his work should applaud a recent ruling by a federal judge against New York City officials who had sought to get their hands on raw film footage related to a documentary Burns is putting together chronicling a notorious attack on a young woman in 1989.

At issue is the film “The Central Park Five,” which Burns, his wife Sarah and David McMahon are producing for PBS — and which will be shown in due course on KACV. New York City officials sought to snatch outtake footage in reaction to a $250 million federal lawsuit by five men whose sentence for the crime was vacated. DNA evidence confirmed their innocence. Another man confessed to the crime.

And that crime was ghastly. A 28-year-old investment banker was beaten and raped while jogging in Central Park in April 1989. She was comatose for 12 days and suffered permanant injury as a result of the savagery. The story made international headlines, as it spoke — according to many observers — to the horrific violence that occurs in many great American cities.

Burns is employing his enormous documentary filmmaking skills in telling that story. The federal judge, Magistrate Ronald Ellis, ruled that the city’s demand for film outtakes did not override “the precious rights of freedom of speech and the press.” The city argued that Burns is not an independent journalist, but instead is advocating for one side of this controversy — and that side presumably is allied with the case brought against the city by the five men who once were charged and convicted of that hideous crime.

Burns, of course, hailed the decision for adding a “layer of protection to journalists and filmmakers everywhere.”

That it does and it clears the way more than likely for Ken Burns to showcase his skill once again at telling an important story.


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