Born in 1955, Ric Burns is an internationally recognized documentary filmmaker and writer best known for his eight-part, 17-hour public television program "New York: A Documentary Film." Since founding Steeplechase Films in 1989, Burns has gone on to direct some of the most distinguished historical documentary programs for PBS, including “Coney Island” (1991), “The Donner Party” (1992), “The Way West” (1995), “Ansel Adams” (2002), and “Eugene O’Neill” and “Andy Warhol” (2006). During his 30-year career, Burns has won numerous entertainment awards. This includes six Emmy Awards, two George Foster Peabody Awards, three Writers Guild of America Awards for Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Writing, the Erik Barnouw Award of the Organization of American Historians, and the D.W. Griffith Award of the National Board of Review. Burns lives in New York City and was educated at Cambridge University and Columbia University.
When Burns entered Columbia University in the late 1960s, he hadn't even considered the world of film and documentaries. Rather, Burns chose Columbia because he figured that it would provide a good place for him to become a professor of English literature. To this end, Burns would spend a total of nine years at Columbia, first receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1978, followed by a Master of Arts in 1983. Perhaps more importantly, it was at Columbia that Burns discovered a medium that offered an audience far greater than any lecture hall could provide: filmmaking. Looking back at his successful career, he credits his intellectual training experiences with professors at Columbia with shaping his approach to his work. "I was incredibly fortunate to go to Columbia at a time when they were all teaching," he said. "It was a completely transforming experience, intellectually, psychologically, and morally. It permanently shaped and deeply affected who I am."
Considering Burns' long-standing association with his alma mater, many considered it appropriate when university trustees chose the filmmaker to help celebrate the school's 250th anniversary in 2003. When asked to create a documentary showcasing Columbia's history, legacy, and future, Burns accepted right away., largely because of his debt to the institution that he said "transformed" him. In addition, Burns has been the recipient of several notable awards, including two Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Awards, and a 2000 John Jay Award for Distinguished Professional Achievement. During the ceremony on campus, Burns highlighted the importance of his college years, saying, "Institutions like Columbia have an uncanny ability to take people who are unformed and still in many ways a pain in the neck and see in them the possibility of a future they could never have imagined for themselves."