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January 31: Ken Burns, Screening of The Central Park Five

Ken BurnsAward-winning filmmaker Ken Burns 71F screened his new film The Central Park Five and participated in a question-and-answer session on January 31 from 2:30 to 5 p.m. in Franklin Patterson Hall (Main Lecture Hall). The event was free and the public is welcome.

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Burns directed and produced the documentary with his daughter Sarah and David McMahon. Cinematography is by Buddy Squires 74S.

The film chronicles the story of the Central Park Jogger case, told for the first time from the perspective of the five teenagers whose lives were upended in a miscarriage of justice.

In 1989 the five African American and Latino teenagers from Harlem were arrested and then convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park. They spent between six and 13 years in prison before a serial rapist confessed that he alone had committed the crime, resulting in their convictions being overturned.

Set against the backdrop of a city beset by violence and facing deepening rifts between races and classes, The Central Park Five intertwines the stories of the five teenagers, the victim, police officers and prosecutors, and the serial rapist whose confession was corroborated by DNA testing, unraveling the forces behind the wrongful convictions.

Sarah Burns first became fascinated by this story as a Yale college student, when she spent a summer working with a pair of civil rights lawyers who are involved in the ongoing civil suit on behalf of the Central Park Five. She is the author of the book The Central Park Five: A Chronicle of a City Wilding (Knopf, 2011).

When her father read an early draft of the book, he was immediately convinced that her take on the famous story would make an extraordinary film: “I felt like this story touches many of the themes that have informed my other films including — obviously — race in America,” said Ken Burns. “I remember the case, of course, when it happened. But it stands as a quintessential American story, and a historical tragedy.”

The film, which is scheduled for national broadcast on PBS later this year, has been an official selection of the Cannes Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, and Toronto International Film Festival.

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