Ric Burns
Ric Burns (left) with Brian Keane (1995)
Eric Burns

1955 (age 68–69)
EducationColumbia University (BA)
University of Cambridge
Occupation(s)Filmmaker, writer
RelativesKen Burns (brother), Sarah Burns (niece), Lilly Burns (niece)

Ric Burns (Eric Burns, born 1955)[1] is an American documentary filmmaker and writer. He has written, directed and produced historical documentaries since the 1990s, beginning with his collaboration on the celebrated PBS series The Civil War (1990), which he produced with his older brother Ken Burns and wrote with Geoffrey Ward.


Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Burns moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, at an early age and later attended Columbia University and Cambridge University,[2] breaking from his graduate work to join his brother on the production of the Civil War series. Since founding Steeplechase Films in 1989, he has directed several programs for WGBH Boston's American Experience, including Coney Island (1991). Burns also wrote and directed The Donner Party (1992).

In 1995, Burns wrote, directed, and co-produced The Way West. In April 2002, he completed a documentary about Ansel Adams, a co-production of Steeplechase Films and Sierra Club Productions for American Experience. Since 2018, he has served as a trustee of the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, NC.

New York: A Documentary Film

Burns is probably best known for his series New York: A Documentary Film, which premiered nationally on PBS. The eight-part, seventeen-and-a-half-hour film chronicles the city's rise from a tiny Dutch trading post through its continuing preeminence as an economic and cultural capital of the world.

The first five episodes of New York were broadcast in November 1999; the sixth and seventh episodes in the fall of 2001; and the eighth episode in September 2003. There will be a ninth episode, chronicling New York since the events of September 11, 2001.[3]

More recent films

The Pilgrims (2015) has drawn renewed interest since Netflix featured it in late 2020 and PBS rebroadcast it on November 19, 2020, as a part of the American Experience series.

Mixing documentary with live acting, the film explores the history, politics, and personalities of the Pilgrims, from their exile in Holland through their subsequent voyage to, and lives in, the New World. While it touches on the universally accepted narrative—the romanticized, whitewashed, and fictionalized version—it reveals many details that would likely be unfamiliar, even shocking, to general audiences.

Burns's recently completed projects include The Chinese Exclusion Act (2018), a deeply American story of immigration and national identity, civil rights, and human justice—about how we define who can be an American and what being an American means. The film examines the economic, cultural, social, legal, racial, and political dimensions of the law; the forces and events that gave rise to it; and the effect it has had, and continues to have, on American culture and identity.[4][5]

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life (2019) explores the riveting and profoundly moving life and work of this unique figure—an old-fashioned polymath and natural historian of the 19th century sort—who redefined our 21st century understanding of the brain and mind. The film is based in part on footage shot in the months before he died. With spellbinding candor, power, and humanity, it includes more than 80 hours with Sacks, his partner, Billy Hayes, and some of his closest friends, colleagues, and family members, as he grappled with the meaning of his life and his impending death.

Selected filmography


Selected list of awards and nominations


  1. ^ Wadler, Joyce (November 17, 1999). "PUBLIC LIVES; No Civil War, but a Brotherly Indifference". The New York Times. Retrieved November 4, 2016. His given name is Eric, but his family called him Ric.
  2. ^ "Columbia College Today". www.college.columbia.edu. Retrieved 2022-03-27.
  3. ^ "New York: Episode 9 (Coming Soon)". Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  4. ^ Carey, Matthew (May 28, 2018). "Emmys: PBS Doc 'The Chinese Exclusion Act' Bears On Bitter Immigration Debate". Deadline. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  5. ^ Hale, Mike (May 28, 2018). "Review: A New Film Investigates the Time America Banned an Entire Race". The New York Times. Retrieved December 8, 2020.
  6. ^ "Nominees for the 31st Annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards" Archived 2011-07-26 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  7. ^ a b c "Nominees for the 27th Annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards" Archived 2007-06-15 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  8. ^ "GEORGE FOSTER PEABODY AWARD WINNERS" Archived July 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 9 March 2011.