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Burns explores Roosevelt legacy in new documentary

November 3, 2013

WARM SPRINGS, Georgia (AP) — Filmmaker Ken Burns says he wants to tell the story of the Roosevelts, their strengths and failures, in an upcoming documentary on one of America’s most famous political families.

Burns, acclaimed for his documentaries on the Civil War, jazz and World War II, previewed on Saturday part of the 14-hour series that will air next year.

Burns’ film explores the political and family ties between President Theodore Roosevelt and President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor.

The Roosevelts lived and governed during a time of enormous change in the U.S, including the country’s emergence as a world power, the Great Depression, World War II and the civil rights struggle.

Burns said the Roosevelt political legacy remains relevant now as U.S. leaders debate how big the federal government should be. All three Roosevelts backed an expanded role for the central government.

The political populism of Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1900s — for example, his anti-monopoly stances and efforts to improve food safety — arguably found a new expression in the politics championed by Franklin Roosevelt to alleviate the suffering inflicted by the Great Depression in the 1930s.

The film follows Eleanor Roosevelt as she emerged from her role as first lady after Roosevelt’s death and led the United Nations as it drafted an international charter of human rights.

The film also shows the leaders’ flaws. Theodore Roosevelt encouraged a rebellion in Panama so the United States could secure the land needed for the Panama Canal. Franklin Roosevelt was unfaithful to Eleanor.

Tweed Roosevelt, the great-grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, said he was supportive of Burns’ work but could not judge the documentary since he had not seen all of it.

Theodore Roosevelt’s life and work is also being explored in a new book out this month by one of the most famous living U.S. historians, Doris Kearns Goodwin.

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