A Vietnam Connection
Ken Burns’s The Vietnam War series, currently airing on PBS, is shaping a new national conversation on a war that looms large in American history – and in the memories of Americans who lived through it. Keene State has had a longtime connection with Burns’s Florentine Films, which has hosted interns and hired graduates at its Walpole, New Hampshire, studios. We profiled one, J. Alex Cucchi ’12, in the winter 2014-15 issue of Keene State Today. Cucchi is an assistant editor at Florentine, and at the time was working on the Vietnam editing team. Here’s the story we ran:
Making the Cuts
“I love the art of storytelling,” says J. Alex Cucchi ’12, “and I love the visual medium of film. I think it’s the best way to get an idea across to a mass audience.”
Since graduating from Keene State, Cucchi has been part of a team that does just that – helps Ken Burns get his ideas across in film. After landing a coveted internship with Burns’s Florentine Films, Cucchi was hired as an apprentice editor on two Burns documentaries – The Address, which aired on PBS last spring, and The Vietnam War, now in production. He joins several other Keene State alumni at Florentine.
The Address, a feature film, looks at Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address through the lens of students at a Vermont school for boys with learning disabilities, who annually memorize the famous speech and then recite it for an audience. “At first, it was just overload of information and visuals and sound,” says Cucchi of the process of boiling down 280 hours of footage into a 90-minute film. “At the beginning, it seemed impossible. We would have screenings every week or every other week with Ken. We would take things out, put new things in, take new things out, put new things in. Eventually you could see the story weaving through, and then it was a matter of filling in the gaps. To see it finally done was incredible.”
Contrast that to Vietnam, slated to be a 10-part, 20-hour series that looks at the war from multiple perspectives. Cucchi is assigned to two-and-a-half episodes, but he’s also in charge of all archival footage – about 10,000 clips so far, with hundreds more coming in weekly. When an editor needs a particular clip, it’s Cucchi’s job to put his hands on it quickly. “We’re getting stuff from Vietnam, from reporters, personal items, home front stuff, Kent State stuff,” he says.
“It’s been said that more people get their history from Ken Burns than from anywhere else, and I think that’s really true,” notes Cucchi.
One of the schoolboys featured in The Address says in the film, “If I recite this address in front of people, I think it will make me feel like I can actually do anything I want.” Cucchi can relate. Working with Florentine is giving him the experience and know-how to move on in the film industry. “I’m learning a lot of skills that would prepare me for anything in film,” he says. “It’s just a broad intake of knowledge, so I’ll be ready for anything that comes next – which is awesome.”