The official word: Two rarely seen Ken Burns films, WILLIAM SEGAL and IN THE MARKETPLACE, will be broadcast as part of special fundraising programming in July-August 2010 (check local listings) on PBS stations, PBS announced today. The two films, airing together on PBS as “Seeing, Searching, Being,” are part of a trilogy which also includes the third film VÉZELAY. All three films will be available on a “Seeing, Searching, Being” DVD as part of a PBS fundraising package.
The three films, which explore the life and teachings of the publisher, painter and philosopher William Segal (1904 – 2000), grew out of Burns’s relationship with Segal during the final decade of his life.
WILLIAM SEGAL (1992) is a short film shot in Segal’s studio and garden in Chester, New Jersey that explores the creative process and the spiritual relationship between the artist and his work. VEZELAY (1996), shot in and around the Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene in Vezelay, France, combines stunning cinematography with Segal’s commentary about individual identity and spiritualism to probe the eternal question of search. IN THE MARKETPLACE (2000), which was completed shortly after Segal’s death in 2000, follows the artist as he prepares for an exhibition of his drawings and lithographs in Paris.
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William Segal sought to bring Eastern and Western spiritual traditions together. A student of the Russian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff and the Zen master D.T. Suzuki, Segal searched relentlessly and compassionately for meaning throughout the 20th century. He was born in 1904, in Macon, Georgia, and was educated at New York University on an athletic scholarship. Segal was a successful businessman, living in apartments in New York City and Paris, a cabin on Fire Island, and a farm in Chester, New Jersey. Throughout his long life, he traveled extensively, spending long periods of time in Japan.
As Robert A. F. Thurman, the Buddhist scholar said of Segal, “[He was] one of America’s pioneer explorers of the inner world… He has combined the yogin’s critical wisdom with the artist’s creativity, helped over the years by Gurdjieff, various Zen masters, the top Tibetan teachers, and his personal muse.”
The director Peter Brook, a longtime friend, wrote of William Segal, “There were no contradictions between his many lives, a man of the city who was a man of nature, a shrewd and humorous businessman, the speediest American footballer of his decade who became an artist, a connoisseur, a poet, a painter and remained an exquisite, immaculately elegant Japanese monk.”
Burns met Segal in 1974 at a drawing workshop and soon after became friends with him and his wife, Marielle Bancou-Segal. After Burns completed THE CIVIL WAR in 1990, he and Segal started work on a series of films that would explore the relationship between art and spiritualism and through Segal’s work try to “see” how we live and understand our lives.
“He was a great man,” Ken Burns said. “I was fortunate that in the last decade of his life, Mr. Segal shared with me his work, his thoughts and most of all, his friendship. I cherish the time we spent together making these films, and I would be so very pleased if they capture, even a little bit, Mr. Segal’s inner strength, his art and his humanity.”
The films, which have never had a national broadcast, have been seen primarily at small events and meetings focused on Segal’s art and philosophy. “I made these films as a conversation, one that I was having with Mr. Segal about his work and beliefs, as I explored similar issues and themes in my own life. The act of actually making these films, which are so personal, was always more important than how we would screen them. Now, ten years after his death, it just seemed like the right time to make them available and to offer them to the PBS system, where I have practiced my craft, as a way to engage new viewers and to raise needed funds.”
WILLIAM SEGAL, VEZELAY and IN THE MARKETPLACE were directed and produced by Ken Burns, with Buddy Squires and Roger Sherman. Editing: Sarah E. Hill and Amy Stechler. Cinematography: Buddy Squires and Ken Burns. With special thanks to Marielle Bancou Segal. Executive Producer, Ken Burns.
“Seeing, Searching, Being” will also be available from PBS Home Video (ShopPBS.org; 800-531-4727) and in retail stores.