â€œSlavery was our worst idea,â€ says legendary documentarian Ken Burns. â€œIâ€™m not sure that Prohibition was second, but itâ€™s really up there.â€ In his five-and-a-half-hour film Prohibition, which aired in three parts on PBS in October, Burns takes an in-depth look at one of the most controversial episodes in U.S. history. Working with his longtime collaborator Lynn Novick, Burns explores the causes, failures, and legacy of the nationâ€™s â€œNoble Experimentâ€ in banning alcohol.
Despite the immense popular appeal of his work, Burns is no fan of â€œthe marketâ€ when it comes to making films. While Bank of America is a major funder of Prohibition, he says that in a commercial television setting the company probably would have exerted editorial pressure on the finished product. And he worries that the proliferation of cheap production and distribution technologies, while a cause for optimism, leads to audience fragmentation. â€œPeople can seek their own self-satisfying sources of knowledge,â€ he says, which â€œis hugely dangerous.â€ Reason.tv Eitor in Chief Nick Gillespie sat down with Burns in New York City to discuss all this and more.