Harvard University President Drew G. Faust has fought for immigration rights and brought the Reserve Officers’ Training Corp back to campus. And with the Tuesday premier of “Death and the Civil War,” an adaption of her book, she will extend her presence to the world of TV.
On Wednesday, Faust embarked on a speaking tour for the film, which acclaimed filmmaker Ric Burns adapted from her 2008 book “This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.”
The film, which chronicles the impact of the Civil War’s unprecedented casualty count on the American people, is part of PBS’s American Experience series.
“Drew did something really amazing. She went to a topic that’s been written about, and written about, and written about, and managed to say something absolutely new,” Burns said. “Deep in the heart of [the book] is an extraordinary narrative of individuals and...of a nation trying to get home again under radically changed circumstances.”
Burns said that he especially appreciated the opportunity to work closely with Faust.
"I work for public television. It was the best thing I’ve ever had to have the president of Harvard as my research assistant,” Burns said.
Faust, who served as a consultant during the making of the film, would often email Burns with research suggestions and names of potential interview subjects, Burns said. From the beginning of the process, Faust trusted Burns to translate the book into a documentary that accurately captured the essence of her work, she said.
“For me, I could feel very safe in trusting him for translating the book into film,” she said. “It was his decision about how to get there and I’m just so delighted about the final product.”
In addition to authoring the book that served as inspiration for the film, Faust also sat for two interviews for the movie.
Burns first tackled the subject of the Civil War with his brother, fellow filmmaker Ken Burns, in 1990, when the pair produced the series “The Civil War.” Ric Burns said that when WGBH Boston approached him with Faust’s book, he jumped at the opportunity to return to the topic.
“It’s been an extraordinary, transforming experience to revisit the subject and to see it through Drew Faust’s eyes,” Burns said. “It’s been a revelation for me.”
Faust’s tour will end Tuesday with a screening of the film at the American Repertory Theater in Harvard Square.
Faust said that the project has been met with enthusiasm from a variety of Harvard affiliates, many of whom attended a WGBH event for the film. Others will meet with her at events in Washington D.C. and New York this week.
“I’m delighted to be able to have this Civil War passion and engagement interact with my Harvard presidential role in this way,” Faust said.
—Staff writer Hana N. Rouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at email@example.com.