Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns isn't one to easily lend his name to colognes, designer jeans, spaghetti sauce, or any of the other entrapments that sometimes come with fame.
But when Tauck, a leading tour company for guided land journeys and small ship cruises, approached Burns and his partner, Dayton Duncan, about teaming up on a series of events and tours surrounding American culture and history, he happily said yes.
That's when Ken Burns American Journeys came to being.
"We're in the business of history," says Burns matter-of-factly, whose documentaries include "The Civil War," "Baseball," "Jazz" and "The National Parks: American's Best Idea." "And a lot o f people have paid attention to those films we made."
Film, whether movies or documentaries, inspires travel. Think "Out of Africa" for Kenya, "Mamma Mia!" for Greece, or "Under the Tuscan Sun" for Italy. Burns just takes the marriage of film and travel a step farther down the aisle.
He says that his and Duncan's goals in filmmaking pair extremely well with Tauck's mission of sharing America's story in a memorable and compelling way, adding, "We both try to engage our audiences, increase their knowledge, and make strong emotional connections with the people and stories from America's past that help define who we are today."
Burns, a born storyteller who also produced a number of biographical documentaries on personalities like Mark Twain, Huey Long and Thomas Jefferson, states, "Tauck looks for the little thin g that is greater than the sum of the whole"
And, adds Duncan, "Tauck approaches tours the same way we do film making: with care and passion and a lot of fun."
Burns and Duncan have been friends for a very long time and share a great love for what they do. So, then, when they collaborated — Burns says they "gloriously collaborated" — with Tauck on the projects, they came up with three components for travelers.
The first is a set of itineraries called "Crafted by Tauck & Ken Burns," the second is a series of filmed narratives entitled "Stories by Ken Burns," and the last is "Ken Burns Events."
The Crafted itineraries, one focusing on the Civil War and the other on national parks, while not escorted by either Burns or Duncan, have been carefully selected, and to use their word, "choreographed" by them.
Putting together such an extensive itinerary on your own isn't for the fainthearted.
"It's very difficult for people to do these things on their own," says Duncan. "And guests can expect a deeper experience than they would have had if they had gone on their own."
At present there are two journeys from which to choose. "Spirit of the Desert: The National Parks of the Southwest" takes you on a 10-day journey from Grand Junction, Colorado, to Las Vegas , Nevada, and through six national parks along what Burns terms "the most interesting, unbelievable landscapes in America," including the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, and Zion National Park. The tours operate from May until October.
"If you really want to witness the landscape of the national parks when they're most beautiful, at their best, you want to see them at sunrise and sunset," says Duncan, emphasizing those we re the times when they typically shot most of their footage for "The National Parks."
The next is "Most Hallowed Ground," an 11-day tour that focuses on places covered in Burns' "The Civil War" documentary. Beginning in Washington, D.C., and ending in Richmond, Va., and running only in September and October, you'll visit historic places like Antietam, Gettysburg, Harper's Ferry and Appomattox. There are extras, like being privy to guided visits, living history reenactments, and exclusive presentations and talks by Civil War experts.
Travel aboard the motor coaches of select Tauck tours in the U.S., and you'll be treated to "Ken Burns Stories," the next component of Ken Burns American Journeys that is a production of more than 30 unique behind-the-scenes documentary films.
Burns and Duncan give their personal perspectives, experiences, stories, and in-depth commentary on national parks, the Civil War, and jazz through destinations including Charleston and Savannah, New Orleans, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, the canyon lands of Arizona and Utah, and California's "gold coast" from Sonoma to Los Angeles.
The last of the collaborations is "Ken Burns Events," single-time and shorter-length journeys in which Burns makes a personal appearance. A five-day Civil War event was held in Washington in May to a sold-out group, but in October comes the Tauck Jazz Event that takes its guests through New Orleans' French Quarter with live jazz throughout. Included are a special performance by Ellis Marsalis, a private steamboat cruise, and a keynote address by the man himself, Burns.
Plans are in the works for an additional "Ken Burns Events" in 2012 that is named the Tauck Winter in Yellowstone Event.
"Who are we?" Burns asks in explaining why he chose to tag-team with Tauck. "Who are Americans? As we explore, we ask that question."
To answer it, he travels an incredible 300-plus days a year for his work to put it all together and give fans of his documentaries and guests of Tauck a heaping helping of American culture.
As for the places they've filmed — those beloved national parks and battlefields and jazz clubs — Burns and Duncan just want people to visit and to see them the way they saw them: as filmmakers.
"Americans should be persuaded, encouraged, and required to see these places," says Duncan. "These kinds of stories are the lifeblood of what we hope to bring to the trips."
IF YOU GO:
For reservations and additional information visit www.Tauck.com or call toll-free (800) 788-7885. For more information on Ken Burns, visit www.PBS.org/KenBurns. For more information on the National Parks Service, visit www.NPS.org.