07/08/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Ken Burns on Election 2008

UNITY, N.H. -- Ken Burns, the prolific documentary filmmaker known for his PBS series on the Civil War, Baseball and Jazz, was among the crowd at the big Democratic Party unity event here last Friday. Now a sort of unofficial national expert on popular American history, Burns has been nominated for two Academy Awards, won seven Emmy Awards, and was even featured on "The Simpsons" and the "Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius." Burns is a resident of nearby Walpole, N.H., and came out with his family to see Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama speak. After the speeches, OffTheBus managed to ask Burns a few questions before a thunderstorm cleared the grounds.

Off the Bus: So what brings you out?

Burns: I live a couple of towns away. So I'm a citizen. My neighbors are turning out, and I've been a big Barack Obama supporter.

What's different this year, in your opinion? What's really at stake?

I think it's easy to say that in every time we're always faced with unique challenges. As someone who's been a student of history, this is an extraordinarily important moment. I think Hillary said it really well. If you think the direction of the country is going well, then we urge you to vote for John McCain. But if you don't think it's going well, if you don't think our foreign policy is going well, that our standing in the world isn't as good as it could be, or if you think the economy is going fine, there's a huge choice here...

You've made your choice.

As a student of the Civil War particularly, it's very interesting to see that folks are using these age-old stories about experience. In 1860, the most challenging time in our country's history, they didn't choose William Seward and Edward Stanton, whom the cable bloviators would have chosen had they been around at that time. They chose a one-term ex-congressman from Illinois who had just lost a senate election -- and that man happened to save the country. So the simple bottom line is I place my faith in skinny lawyers from Illinois!


The night Barack Obama accepts the Democratic nomination will be the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech --

It will indeed.

It's amazing how all of this is coming around full-circle.

Well, I mean, if anyone who was in Philadelphia and saw him address the question of race, that's the finest speech about race that we've heard since Martin Luther King addressed [the matter] in front of Abraham Lincoln, the skinny lawyer from Illinois. It will have come full circle and, my goodness, in our focus of news in news out, what you guys do every day, we forget the historic nature of today. It's so important!

(Heavy downpour. Thunder and lighting.)

Thank you very much. I appreciate the time.