Via Zoom: Co-Director Sarah Burns on PBS Doc Series ‘Muhammad Ali’

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CHICAGO – Say the name “Ken Burns” and immediately images are evoked regarding the best of American documentaries. For three films – “The Central Park Five,” “Jackie Robinson” and the latest PBS documentary series, “Muhammad Ali” – Ken’s daughter Sarah Burns co-directed with him. Sarah talked to Patrick McDonald of on the latest film about “The Greatest.”

Muhammad Ali’s life can also be characterized as The Greatest. Born in Louisville, Kentucky as Cassius Clay – he would later change his name when he joined the Nation of Islam – he burst upon the boxing scene in the 1960 Olympics, where he won a gold medal. Turning pro, he immediately made an impact with his brash braggadocio and backed it up with his superior pugilistic skills, becoming heavyweight champion of the world several times during his illustrious career. Through controversy and triumph, the documentary eyes of Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon take us on an eight hour odyssey in the life of Ali.

Muhammad Ali
Photo credit: PBS

Sarah Burns joined her father Ken in documentary production with “The Central Park Five” in 2012. Expanding upon her undergrad thesis, the father/daughter duo – along with Sarah’s husband David McMahon – took on the case of five New York City black youths wrongly accused of attack and rape in Central Park. Their next collaboration was “Jackie Robinson” (2016), a four hour life story of the famous baseball pioneer. “Muhammad Ali” marks the third film for the writing/directing team.

In an interview Via Zoom with Patrick McDonald of, co-director Sarah Burns of “Muhammad Ali” talks about expanding the understanding in the life of “The Greatest” …

A promo for “Muhammad Ali” …

NEXT WEEK: In PART TWO of the Sarah Burns interview, the writer/director will talk “The Central Park Five,” “Jackie Robinson” and more on “Muhammad Ali.”

The first part of the ”Muhammad Ali” documentary series premieres on PBS on Sunday, September 19th at 8pmET/7pmCT. See local listings for PBS channel in your area. Co-directed by Sarah Burns, Ken Burns and David McMahon. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Editor, Film Writer

© 2021 Patrick McDonald,

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