PBS filmmaker Ken Burns visited the Sun today to talk about his upcoming 12-hour PBS series, National Parks: America's Best Idea, and what a great session it was.

Burns, the most celebrated documentary filmmaker of our lifetime, offered a sneak peek at his next big film, followed by more than an hour of stimulating conversation. I have been lucky enough to hear Burns speak many times as I have covered him during the last 20 years. In November, I introduced him here in Baltimore when he was honored with one of the Pratt Library's prestigious Lifetime Achievement Awards.


I can honestly say that Burns, one of the nation's great artists and most eloquent speakers, was in top form at the Sun today.

Plus, he was joined by Dayton Duncan, co-producer and writer of The National Parks, who brought even more insight and energy to the table.

Dayton described America's national parks as "the Declaration of Independence applied to the landscape." And everyone in the room got it -- instantly. That was the kind of conversation we had at the Sun today.

In a fun sense, the discussion ranged from Burns sharing his feelings at seeing himself spoofed on The Simpsons, to his lack of technical knowledge when it comes to the famed "Ken Burns Effect" on Apple computers.

In a deeper sense, he talked about the role he believes his films play in the conversation of democracy. Later, in a quiet voice, he told the audience about his memories of and affection for historian Shelby Foote, the most beloved "talking head" in the history of TV and film for his work in The Civil War.

With films like The Civil War, Baseball and Jazz, Burns is not only the greatest documentarian of the day, but also the most influential filmmaker period. That includes feature filmmakers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. I say that because Burns not only turned millions of persons onto history with his films, he showed us a new way of looking at our collective past and ourselves.

I could go on like this forever, but I thought readers would get a more representative sense of the room if I asked some of my colleagues for their takes on Burns. Here is a sampling. I was especially taken with the first two responses from colleagues who had never heard Burns speak before.

Sun reporter Gus Sentementes asked some of the questions that Burns seemed to find most stimulating. Here's Sentementes' reaction to today's session:

Here's Amanda Krotki, a senior producer for Baltimore.Metromix.com:

Sun reporter Chris Kaltenbach offered this analysis:

(AP photo by Matthew Brown of Ken Burns filming in January in Yellowstone National Park)