Faculty Member Allen Moore Partners with Director and Producer Ken Burns

Allen Moore and Ken Burns

The growth of MICA’s Film and Video Department and the addition of the MFA in Filmmaking program have put a spotlight on the College’s emerging expertise in the field, led by faculty members like Allen Moore, documentary filmmaker, owner of the Allen Moore Films Inc. production company, and faculty member in MICA’s MFA in Filmmaking program and Film and Video Department.

Moore, whose career spans nearly 40 years, is one of the forefathers of the film program at MICA, introducing the first film class. The class, described as “the actual teaching of 16mm basic film production,” is still a requirement at MICA. It is a practice that he uses in his professional and academic life.

In September, Moore added to his extensive body of work as a cinematographer The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, which was produced by his longtime collaborator Ken Burns and premiered on PBS.

The Roosevelts is a seven-part documentary centered on Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt and their journey into American royalty. Director and producer Burns is known for his in-depth documentaries about the history of the United States.

Moore often serves as his director of photography or cinematographer. Burns and Moore have worked together on numerous projects such as The Civil War; The Congress; Thomas Jefferson; Lewis & Clark - The Journey of the Corps of Discovery; and The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. “Ken still shoots the Super 16mm format,” Moore said.

Moore got his start in documentaries shortly after graduating from Harvard University, working with anthropologists “to assist them in doing documentary films about the unique and wonderful qualities of different cultures in our world,” he said. “In those situations, not only was I filming people, I was also filming places which drew me into understanding light and the landscape,” he further explained. It was this type of work that caught Burns’s eye. “I actually intersected with him at a film festival, and he’d seen a film I made.” And due to the considerable lapse of time between the encounters, “I sort of just forgot about having met him,” Moore said.

Years later, while living in Washington, DC, he caught wind of a new project Burns was working on. “I had heard that he was starting a film about the United States Congress. So I just called up the number of the company that he was running and asked to speak with him.” Burns remembered him. “He asked me, ‘are you the Allen Moore that made The Shepherds of Berneray?’ And I said, ‘yes.’ He then said, ‘you’re hired.’” Moore describes the dynamic between him and Burns as comfortable. “Sometimes when I work for Ken he will simply say go to this location and bring back imagery that speaks to me. He just trusts me to go,” Moore said. For The Roosevelts, more structure was required.

Throughout the filming of The Roosevelts, one of Moore’s assignments was to capture the essence of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s time in Warm Springs, Georgia. His home there is referred to as the “Little White House.” Burns and other producers did not let the more strict script stifle Moore’s creativity. “If I see something start to happen—the light changes—and suddenly there’s a beam of light hitting the desk in a corner, but we weren’t necessarily going to film the desk, usually they say, ‘go for it Allen, get that shot, too,’ because it’s always something that might be used,” he shared. One of the mysteries of the filming process for Moore is discovering how his images will ultimately be used. While working on The Civil War, Moore had a chance to shoot at Manassas Battlefield in Virginia. “There was a cannon on a ridge and a chain that was part of the cannon, and the wind was blowing it, and it was swinging very subtly. In the background was this incredible red, orange sunset,” he described.

“But Ken’s genius is to take this image of war and the blood red sky behind it and layer it with this letter that was read.” The letter was from Sullivan Ballou, a soldier who dearly missed his wife and shared with her his fear of not returning home. “Instead of the physical letter, you have live images,” Moore said. “It’s a very powerful statement,” he concluded. It is these experiences that Moore takes back to his classroom to share with his film students. “All that time I spent in the field has given me such satisfaction that all I can do is be totally enthusiastic about this profession, and that enthusiasm flows over into my enthusiasm as a teacher.”