Director, Writer, Producer
Ric Burns is an internationally recognized documentary filmmaker and writer, best known for his eight-part, seventeen and a half hour series, New York: A Documentary Film, which premiered nationally on PBS to wide public and critical acclaim when broadcast in November 1999, September 2001, and September 2003.
Burns has been writing, directing and producing historical documentaries for over 25 years, since his collaboration on the PBS series The Civil War, (1990), which he produced with his brother Ken and co-wrote with Geoffrey C. Ward. Since founding Steeplechase Films in 1989, he has directed some of the most distinguished programs for PBS including Coney Island (1991), The Donner Party (1992), The Way West (1995), Ansel Adams (2002), Eugene O’Neill, Andy Warhol (2006), We Shall Remain: Tecumseh’s Vision (2009), Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World (2010), Death and the Civil War (2012), American Ballet Theatre (2015), Debt of Honor (2015), The Pilgrims (2015), VA: The Human Cost of War (2017), and The Chinese Exclusion Act (2018).
His work has won numerous film and television awards including six Emmy Awards, two George Foster Peabody Awards, two Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Awards, three Writer’s Guild of America Awards for Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Writing; the Eric Barnouw Award of the Organization of American Historians, and the D.W. Griffith Award of the National Board of Review.
In 2018, Burns, with co-director and long-time editor Li-Shin Yu, released The Chinese Exclusion Act, a two-hour film for national broadcast on PBS’ American Experience, which explores in riveting detail a unique piece of federal legislation signed into law at a crucial moment in American history – in May 1882, as immigrants poured in, Americans streamed west, and the promises of the Civil War faded – it singled out as never before a specific race and nationality for exclusion – making it illegal for Chinese workers to come to America, and for Chinese nationals already here ever to become citizens of the United States. No episode in American history sheds more light on the nation’s crucial, complex and ambivalent relationship to immigrants. This year will also see the release of Oliver Sacks: His Own Life, a feature documentary film for theatrical release and national broadcast on PBS’ American Masters. The film 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 brain and mind.
Burns was educated at Columbia University and Cambridge University. He lives in New York City with his wife Bonnie Lafave and two sons.
Since its founding in 1989 by Ric Burns, Steeplechase Films has produced over 30 hours of award-winning humanities programming for prime-time national broadcast on public television, including Coney Island, The Donner Party, The Way West, New York: a documentary film, Ansel Adams, Eugene O’Neill, Andy Warhol, We Shall Remain: Tecumseh’s Vision, Into the Deep: America, Whaling and the World, Death and the Civil War, Debt of Honor: Disabled Veterans in American History, The Pilgrims, VA: The Human Cost of War, and The Chinese Exclusion Act. For these projects Steeplechase Films has garnered thirteen national Emmy nominations, five Emmy awards, three Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Journalism awards, two George Foster Peabody Awards, and the Erick Barnouw prize from the Organization of American Historians.