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New York: A Documentary Film 

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 2 wins & 6 nominations. See more awards »


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Series cast summary:
David Ogden Stiers ...  Narrator 8 episodes, 1999-2003
John Steele Gordon John Steele Gordon ...  Himself - Commentator 7 episodes, 1999-2001
Kenneth Jackson Kenneth Jackson ...  Himself - Commentator 7 episodes, 1999-2001
Robert A.M. Stern Robert A.M. Stern ...  Himself - Commentator 7 episodes, 1999-2001
Mike Wallace ...  Himself - Commentator 7 episodes, 1999-2001
Philip Bosco 6 episodes, 1999-2001
Brendan Gill Brendan Gill ...  Himself - Commentator 6 episodes, 1999-2001
Calvin O. Butts III Calvin O. Butts III ...  Himself - Commentator 5 episodes, 1999-2001
Robert A. Caro Robert A. Caro ...  Himself - Commentator 5 episodes, 1999-2001
Peter Hamill Peter Hamill ...  Himself - Commentator 5 episodes, 1999-2001
Alfred Kazin Alfred Kazin ...  Himself - Commentator 5 episodes, 1999-2001
David McCullough ...  Himself - Commentator 5 episodes, 1999-2001
George Plimpton 5 episodes, 1999-2001
Luc Sante Luc Sante ...  Himself - Commentator 5 episodes, 1999-2001
Eli Wallach 5 episodes, 1999-2001
Craig Steven Wilder Craig Steven Wilder ...  Himself - Commentator 5 episodes, 1999-2001
Keith David 4 episodes, 1999-2001
Paul Giamatti 4 episodes, 1999-2001
Rudy Giuliani ...  Himself - Commentator 4 episodes, 1999-2001
Fran Lebowitz ...  Herself - Commentator 4 episodes, 1999-2001
Callie Thorne 4 episodes, 1999-2001
Daniel Czitrom Daniel Czitrom ...  Himself - Commentator 4 episodes, 1999
Robert Sean Leonard 4 episodes, 1999
Peter Quinn Peter Quinn ...  Himself - Commentator 4 episodes, 1999
Marshall Berman Marshall Berman ...  Herself - Commentator 3 episodes, 1999-2001
Allen Ginsberg ...  Himself - Commentator 3 episodes, 1999-2001
Spalding Gray ...  Himself - Comentator 3 episodes, 1999-2001
Josh Hamilton Josh Hamilton 3 episodes, 1999-2001
David Levering Lewis David Levering Lewis ...  Himself - Commentator 3 episodes, 1999-2001
Donald Trump Jr. ...  Himself - Commentator 3 episodes, 1999-2001
Carol Willis Carol Willis ...  Herself - Commentator 3 episodes, 1999-2001
Caleb Carr Caleb Carr ...  Himself - Commentator 3 episodes, 1999
James Hazeldine 3 episodes, 1999
Phillip Lopate Phillip Lopate ...  Himself - Commentator 3 episodes, 1999
Daniel Patrick Moynihan ...  Himself - Commentator 3 episodes, 1999
Frances Sternhagen 3 episodes, 1999
John Kuo Wei Tchen John Kuo Wei Tchen ...  Himself - Commentator 3 episodes, 1999
Joshua Freeman Joshua Freeman ...  Himself - Commentator 2 episodes, 1999-2001
Ruth J. Abram Ruth J. Abram ...  Herself - Commentator 2 episodes, 1999
Thomas Bender Thomas Bender ...  Himself - Commentator 2 episodes, 1999
Carol Berkin Carol Berkin ...  Herself - Commentator 2 episodes, 1999
Janeane Garofalo 2 episodes, 1999
Margo Jefferson Margo Jefferson ...  Herself - Commentator 2 episodes, 1999
Frederic Kimball Frederic Kimball 2 episodes, 1999
David Margulies David Margulies 2 episodes, 1999
Gretchen Sullivan Sorin Gretchen Sullivan Sorin ...  Herself - Commentator / ... 2 episodes, 1999
Harris Yulin 2 episodes, 1999
Bella Abzug Bella Abzug ...  Herself - Commentator 2 episodes, 2001
Frances Golden Frances Golden ...  Herself - Commentator 2 episodes, 2001
Cheryl Greenberg Cheryl Greenberg ...  Herself - Commentator 2 episodes, 2001
Ada Louise Huxtable Ada Louise Huxtable ...  Herself - Commentator 2 episodes, 2001
Ed Koch ...  Himself - Commentator 2 episodes, 2001
Anna Quindlen ...  Herself - Commentator 2 episodes, 2001
Susan Sarandon 2 episodes, 2001
Ray Suarez Ray Suarez ...  Himself - Commentator 2 episodes, 2001


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

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis



Official Sites:

PBS [United States]





Release Date:

September 1999 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

American Experience: New York - A Documentary Film See more »

Filming Locations:

New York City, New York, USA

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs



See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


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


voice: Most of the big shore places were closed now. And there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of the ferryboat across the sound. And as the moon rose higher, the inessential houses began to melt away till gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes, A fresh green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams. For a transitory enchanted moment man must have ...
See more »


References King Kong (1933) 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 MisterWhiplashSee 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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