Ken Burns Film Festival Opening Night – February 10, 2023

February 10, 2023
President Robert W. Iualiano
Majestic Theater
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

As Delivered.

Good evening, everyone.

We talk a lot about Doing Great Work at Gettysburg College, and Jeffrey and his talented Majestic staff have done this and more. Please join me in a hearty thank you to the Majestic team for their incredible work in the preparation of this weekend’s festivities.

On behalf of Gettysburg College, the Majestic Theater, and our entire community, it is my pleasure to welcome you to this first-of-its-kind film festival in celebration of Ken Burns and his more than 40 years of filmmaking and telling America’s story.

If I may borrow a phrase, “it is altogether fitting and proper” that we should gather together here, in Gettysburg, to explore a most fundamental question—one that continues to echo across the battlefields that surround us and within the hearts of all who dream of unifying our increasingly divided nation: Who Are We?

Over the next three days, we will dedicate ourselves to these three words so beautifully represented in each of Ken Burns’ award-winning documentaries on American history.

Together, we will reflect on 35 hours of programming that examine this question from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives, including through Ken’s timeless works on art, war, music, leadership, and justice.

We will also engage in conversations that challenge us to examine our powerful yet complicated past, in hopes of what it can reveal to us to today, as we work toward building a brighter future. A future in which we live to our highest values and rise to President Lincoln’s call to advance the “unfinished work” of our time.

This is precisely the kind of education we aim to provide for our students at Gettysburg College—A Consequential Education—and we are so pleased to have the opportunity to share it with you this weekend.

Of course, a festival of this size and scope is made possible only by the people bold enough to take it on.

While there are far too many people to recognize this evening, I do want to take an opportunity to offer my special thanks to Jake Boritt, our festival director. Without Jake and his vision, none of this would have been possible. Thank you, Jake.

I’d also like thank our historians, our accomplished guest speakers, and our film festival sponsors. Your knowledge, expertise, and generous support has helped to breathe life into this ambitious endeavor. We are all deeply grateful. Thank you.

And lastly, I want to extend my personal thanks and appreciation to Ken Burns. Ken is an innovator, an artist, and above all, a dear friend to our community.

In reflecting upon Ken’s impact, I’m reminded of the words of another friend of Gettysburg: President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In the 1950s, while staying at their Gettysburg farm, Ike and First Lady Mamie would often attend movies here at the Majestic Theater. Westerns were their favorite. They would sit right up there. Two of you in the balcony this evening may be sitting the Eisenhowers’ seats!

Ike was a devoted member of our College’s Board of Trustees and even wrote his memoirs in what is today our Admissions building.

President Eisenhower said in his Inaugural Address:

“We are summoned to act in wisdom and in conscience, to work with industry, to teach with persuasion, to preach with conviction, to weigh our every deed with care and with compassion.”

Ken has lived this charge to the fullest throughout his remarkable career and, in doing so, he continues to show us not only who we are, but also who we can become.

From all of us, Ken, thank you.

In just a moment, we will see “The Universe of Battle (1863),” Episode 5 of The Civil War.

Ken’s landmark nine-part film series is the highest rated and most celebrated documentary in public television’s history.

It is directed by Ken and produced with his brother, Ric Burns.

Many of Ken’s collaborators on this film are here with us this weekend, including writer Geoffrey C. Ward; cinematographers Allen Moore and Buddy Squires; and musicians Jay Ungar, Molly Mason, and Jacqueline Schwab.

The Civil War won 40 major awards including two Emmys, two Grammys, a Peabody, and the very first Lincoln Prize awarded by Gettysburg College in partnership with the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History.

This film was chosen by Ken for this very special night because it focuses on Gettysburg—one of the critical turning points of the American Civil War.

The war to save the nation ended as a fight to free the enslaved, a revolutionary transformation of the Civil War that offered a new understanding of what freedom and human dignity mean in America.

Now, let the lights go dark and the projector illuminate this big screen with the art of our American storyteller, Ken Burns.