Studying Ken Burns in the woods of New Hampshire

... an up-close look at a senior-level week-long class

from Don Norris

Here, in the small New England community of Walpole, NH, the Ken Burns organization thrives -- in a modest, antique colonial house. Our speaker was a key assistant, Dan White.

The world 'just ain't all roses and ice cream'. Not anymore, anyway. The older we get, the more realism pops its ugly head into our line of sight, and we learn a lot about our neighbors and this old world.

The occasion was a week-long seminar in the dense woods of southwestern New Hampshire, just a little south of Keene, on the edge of a delightful small man-made lake. It all happened in June, but we're just now getting around to writing it up.

Attending from Melrose were two editors of the Mirror -- Don Norris and Louise Fennell. Louise also heads the new MMTV program called "Have You Been Here?".

The week-long school for seniors is produced by a group called "Road Scholars" which is affiliated with AARP's educational program for seniors. Basically, it was a week-long camp-out in an old religious camp in the really deep woods of Swansea, New Hampshire.

Delightful. That's the word for it. It was in reality a seminar in which some 50 super-seniors listened and learned about how Ken Burns (of television fame) goes about producing those four-hour documentaries, most of which are the highlight programs on public television.

We learned such things as Burns' projects take four to seven years to produce, that his main support is public television, and that there are a lot of people involved in producing these really fine documentaries. At one point, in the camp's modern meeting room, we were first to see a short, 45-minute preview of Burns' next production -- the Roosevelts, an in depth look at Teddy, Franklin and Eleanor -- Franklin's wife and distant cousin.

It was spectacular, and the four-hour full-length program is due for release this fall. We guarantee that this show is a personal, inside look a these three famous Roosevelts, fascinating, factual, enlightening.

While the camp is a long-established religious retreat, it is rented to various philanthropic organizations such as "Road Scholar". It is set in deep woods, facing a lovely two-mile lake. In the right photo, we show two key people: Administrator Chuck Anderson (in purple) and Professor Larry  Benaquist, retired from Keene State College.)

Another Burns' show in the works is a piece on the Vietnam war, using lots of modern film-clips or that international war, where thousands of Americans and endless Asians died for a way of government. The show is in production, but it will not be finished, probably, until next year.

Unfortunately we, the fifty senior/students in the class, did not get to meet Mr. Burns, although we had a day-long lecture by his right-hand assistant, Daniel White. We also loaded our fifty souls on a classy new bus for a 20-mile ride up to Walpole, NH, where the Burns' people actually produce these documentaries in a beautiful-but-small colonial house.

The tour (if you can imagine fifty people in a dining room) was amazing, that these smart young people on the Burns' staff could create such amazing films. This was NOT Hollywood, not New York nor Paris, but is was a small, elegant colonial house in the small village of Walpole, New Hampshire.

One of several restored buildings of the old Quaker farm, some fifteen miles northeast of Concord. All practicing members of this group are gone bow, but the farm is maintained as a museum.

It took an hour and a half to get out fifty old-timers through their house-of-production. It was fascinating. We learned of financing, of footage, of interviews and on-scene filming, of finding and gathering film from all over the world, of how to use a zillion "stills" to produce a moving picture.

While the Burns' segment was the target of the week-long venture, we also had a hundred-mile bus trip across the state to visit Quaker Village -- coupled with a marvelous tour of the now-defunct religious community. Lunch was delightful, but the ride through those low hills of southeast New Hampshire was just thrilling, so beautiful.

Unfortunately, we never got to meet Ken Burns, but we did get to see a large, color photo of him with Meryl Streep, who does the voice of Eleanor in the coming Roosevelt film.

Enjoying the quaint beauty of downtown Keene are Road Scholars Rob and Mary, from New Haven. One student in the group of fifty  was from Oregon -- most of the participants have attended several such ventures.

The price of our week-long program was $600, including meals (delightful), sleeping quarters (some new, some old), use of all the athletic facilities including golf, swimming, basketball court, boating, and hiking. The Road Scholar program produces, professionally, endless learning trips to all parts of the world -- even China, Cuba, Europe, Russia, Japan ... The internet connection is simply "Road Scholars".

If you're a senior and have the money, the program can't be beat.

July 4, 2014

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