New York: A Documentary Film (1999– )

TV Series  -   -  Documentary | History
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Ric Burns (brother of the famed documentarian Ken Burns) presents an exhaustive history of New York City from the settling of the area by the Dutch to the attack by terrorists nearly 400 ... See full summary »

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2003 | 2001 | 1999
Won 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 1 win & 5 nominations. See more awards »




Series cast summary:
 Narrator (8 episodes, 1999-2003)


Ric Burns (brother of the famed documentarian Ken Burns) presents an exhaustive history of New York City from the settling of the area by the Dutch to the attack by terrorists nearly 400 years later. Told in a sentimental tone, Burns weaves a lyrical tale of the great metropolis that encompasses not only the city's streets, but also that of the history of America. Though around fourteen hours in length, this epic documentary presents a thoughtful, entertaining look at our relatively young country. Written by Chris Bogner

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Release Date:

14 November 1999 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

American Experience: New York - A Documentary Film  »

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Filming took nearly four years and over 170 days including interviews, shooting archival footage, and New York landscapes. See more »


voice: From the ruins, lonely and inexplicable as the sphinx, rose the Empire State Building and, just as it had been a tradition of mine to climb to the Plaza Roof to take leave of the beautiful city, extending as far as eyes could reach, so now I went to the roof of the last and most magnificent of towers. Then I understood - - everything was explained: I had discovered the crowning error of the city, its Pandora's box. Full of vaunting pride the New Yorker had climbed here and seen with dismay what...
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Features In the Street (1948) See more »

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User Reviews

an elephantine story of one of the crucial cities of the mast thousand years (or more)
7 December 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Sure Ric Burns (related directly to TV-documentary maestro Ken) may not provide a documentary that is outright 'entertaining' like a Michael Moore film, or isn't strangely engaging in its montage like Errol Morris' The Fog of War, but he understands something that all good documentary filmmakers know. If you get your subject down, and what story of the subject you want to tell, the rest is just history, literally. And if you are a history buff at all, or just interested in the tales and lineage and drama that made what is New York City what it is today, this is the documentary to see. Of course, it's not an easy feat; like his brother Kens's Jazz documentary, New York is split up into seemingly countless hours of detail, going over its 300+ year history, from the days of Henry Hudson, to the Revolution, the the draft riots (covered brilliantly in Gangs of New York), the trials and tribulations of the immigrants, and leading up to 9/11.

It's basically the kind of documentary in which once you see one part of it, say part 2 covering 1830 to the 1870, or part 5 covering the early 1900's, and you want to see more, you'll know what you're getting. One could criticize the over-abundance of dramatic, TV-esquire music, the emphasis on piling on the weight on certain subjects over others, or that (ironically) the time given still isn't enough. But as one interviewee says, there is not one definitive book or books by an author that give a totally clear idea of what New York was like in such a time and place or another. For someone who has been to the Apple countless times, seen many of Manhattan and Bronx's sites, and recognized that New York carries with it the residue of dozens of passing generations and cultures and tragedies and joys, this serves as THE documentary, at least with information terms, what New York was. At the least, you can impress (some of) your friends and family with bits of information, like about Alexander Hamilton or how the formation of all the NYC roads were built, or the bits within the massive scope of the immigration stories.

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