Ken Burns is the king of PBS – his history specials and miniseries are known throughout the US as evocative, realistic portrayals of American History. He is arguably the most well-known documentary film maker of our time. The following short documentary, Ken Burns: On Story, gives us the filmmakers insights and ideas on the craft of story.
Two traveling angels stopped to spend the night in the home of a wealthy family. The family was rude and refused to let the angels stay in the mansion’s guest room. Instead the angels were given a space in the cold basement. As they made their bed on the hard floor, the older angel saw a hole on the wall and repaired it. When the younger angel asked why, the older angel replied…”Things aren’t always what they seem”. The next night the pair came to rest at the house of a very poor, but very hospitable farmer and his wife. After sharing what little food they had the couple let the angels sleep in their bed where they could have a good night’s rest.
When the sun came up the next morning the angels found the farmer and his wife in tears. Their only cow, whose milk had been their sole income, lay dead in the field. The younger angel was infuriated and asked the older angel “how could you have let this happen!? The first man had everything, yet you helped him,” she accused. “The second family had little but was willing to share everything, and you let their cow die.”
“Things aren’t always what they seem,” the older angel replied. “When we stayed in the basement of the mansion, I noticed there was gold stored in the wall. Since the owner was so obsessed with greed and unwilling to share his good fortune, I sealed the wall so he wouldn’t find it. Then last night as we slept in the farmer’s bed, the angel of death came for his wife. I gave her the cow instead. Things aren’t what they seem.” Sometimes that’s exactly what happens when things don’t turn out the way they should.