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by Madeline Raynor
June 4, 2013 4:05 PM
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Ken Burns to Produce PBS Doc 'The Emperor of All Maladies,' Aims to Create a National Conversation About Cancer

Ken Burns PBS

Acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns has taken on a project of epic proportions for PBS. "CANCER: The Emperor of All Maladies" is based on on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D., with whom Burns will be closely collaborating. The "Central Park Five" filmmaker will serve as producer, while signed on to direct is award-winning filmmaker and fellow documentarian Barak Goodman ("Clinton," "The American Experience"). The goal of the project is to create a national conversation about cancer, and it is already being hailed as one of the largest, most comprehensive educational programs in the history of documentary filmmaking.

This national outreach and engagement campaign is made possible by involvement from Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF) that works to accelerate innovative cancer research and to increase awareness about progress being made in the fight against the disease, in addition to WETA Washington, D.C., the flagship public broadcasting station in the nation’s capital and production partner on all Ken Burns films. The campaign will include education materials, screenings, and conferences, as well as an extensive website with a wealth of medical information as well as a network of personal stories intended to create a community not just between patients and survivors, but the world at large.

WETA President and CEO Sharon Percy Rockefeller brought Burns and Mukherjee together after being deeply affected by the book as during treatment for cancer. Burns and Mukherjee have personal connections to the project as well, with Burns saying in the announcement that "My work as a filmmaker is directly linked to the death of my mother from cancer when I was 11. From the age of three, I watched her suffer and struggle with this awful disease, forever creating for me a desire to explore the past and to listen deeply to the stories that we all have to tell. I was frightened and exhilarated by Sid’s book and thrilled by Sharon’s suggestion that we collaborate to turn this remarkable accomplishment into a film."

Mukherjee adds that the book grew out of his experience as a cancer physician: "Treating cancer is one of the most significant human challenges we've ever faced." But he notes that now that we are finally beginning to understand cancer in a way that we didn't 10 years ago, the impulse to share the journey with the public is strong.

"CANCER: The Emperor of All Maladies" will be produced by Florentine Films, Laura Ziskin Pictures, and WETA Washington, D.C., in association with Ark Media. The three-part, six-hour series will air on PBS in spring 2015. 

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1 Comment

  • MM | June 9, 2013 3:24 PMReply

    I wish Burns was directing. The Clinton series was disappointing.