New Ken Burns app and website showcase 30 years of history films

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PBS filmmaker Ken Burns put a new spin on his catalog of historical documentaries today, debuting his first app and a new website dedicated to his films.

The Ken Burns App, conceived, directed and produced by his longtime producing partner Don MacKinnon, launches exclusively on iPad and features selected excerpts from his more than three decades’ worth of documentaries on American history. The app, which is free to download but charges $9.99 to access its full slate of content, includes links for viewers interested in watching the full features through PBS’s online store, iTunes and Netflix.

The app features exclusive interviews with Burns,  as well as six thematic video playlists that he created with selected clips from his films. Of the playlists — built around the themes Race, War, Innovation, Art, Hard Times and Politics –only the Innovation playlist is accessible through the free version of the app; users must pay to unlock the rest.

The playlists are designed and curated so that app users can see how “collisions of free electrons of a scene from this film and a scene from that film made 20 years apart suddenly interrelate in a new way,” Burns said in a release.

The app also offers new behind-the-scenes videos, and reaches back into the archives to Burns’s first PBS film, 1982’s The Brooklyn Bridge, as well as his landmark projects including Jazz, The Civil War, Prohibition and The Dust Bowl.

The app release coincided with the launch of a new website, Ken Burns America, featuring essays, clips and classroom resources connected to his films. The site is co-presented by PBS and Washington, D.C.’s WETA.

Burns will participate in a Reddit Ask Me Anything session tomorrow to discuss his new digital initiatives.

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