In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

October 20, 2016

Documenting Mayo – Ken Burns Was Here, and He’s Making a Movie

By In the Loop

kenburnscrew805If you were in downtown Rochester this week for the closing of the Plummer doors in honor of Sister Generose Gervais, you likely noticed a lot of folks capturing the event with their phones and cameras. It was a historic moment, worth documenting and sharing with the world. If you happened to look around, you may have noticed one camera that stood out among them – a serious video camera, surrounded by a serious crew – and thought, “Hey, isn’t that Ken Burns?”

Actually, yes, it was Ken Burns. He and his team were in Rochester to capture the event on Tuesday, Oct. 18. In fact, they’ve been quietly working their way around Mayo over the past year or so for a documentary about ours truly. They’ve been talking with Mayo Clinic leaders, historians, staff and patients, and will be filming for another 10 to 12 months, for a motion picture about Mayo Clinic that will premier (knock on wood) in the fall of 2018. 


John Noseworthy, M.D., president and CEO of Mayo Clinic, was one of many at Mayo interviewed by filmmaker Ken Burns.

In fact, this past summer, Burns, who is executive producer of the film, and his hand-picked crew from Ewers Brothers Productions spent some time with Sister Generose. We assume that was something of an education about Mayo’s historical ties with the Sisters of Saint Francis, and they surely got schooled in the values that have guided Mayo Clinic since its earliest days.

We’re told that key themes for Burns’ film are “faith, hope and science,” and it will cover Mayo’s history from the founding years to the present. The producers have indicated they intend to weave past and present narratives throughout the film, and described the concept as “telling the history and present story of Mayo Clinic on a parallel timeline.” That said, the film will be a revelation to all of us. Mayo has no editorial control over the production.

For some Mayo perspective on the project, we heard from John Wald, M.D., medical director for Public Affairs. “We are extremely excited that Ken Burns has decided to do a film about Mayo Clinic,” he said. Dr. Wald  indicated that the Mayo team supporting the producers is doing its best to expose the film’s production team to patient stories that demonstrate the value of teamwork at Mayo Clinic, and to innovation stories that illustrate how research affects the practice of medicine. They also hope to share instances of staff, students and volunteers doing amazing things to improve the patient experience. (In as many areas and locations as possible.) “These types of stories help us demonstrate the intangibles of what makes Mayo Clinic what it is,” Dr. Wald says. And he anticipates the result of the project will be something “that everyone associated with Mayo Clinic can be proud of.”

But don’t head out to the movie theater just yet. The two-hour film will take more than two years to produce. Plus, when it’s released, you can watch it in the comfort of your own home, on PBS. So get your VCRs (or your technology of choice) ready to capture the event.

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Tags: Community, Film, Ken Burns, Mayo History, Sister Generose

Excellant! Always more than willing to share our patient story traveling to Mayo with our son for the past 7 years. Samaritan’s Purse did a short film on a bit of my son’s patient journey and therefore our wanting to give back through the Connection between Mayo and Children’s Heart Project. Hoping you will cover the incredible service provided to those that don’t have access all over the world. Much respect!!! Julie Bayles


I’ll be looking forward to watching this documentary when it’s out! Ken Burns does great work and Mayo is the best place on Earth for healthcare, as far as I’m concerned! I had my Cochlear Implant done there in 2013. @Janet Burns


Ken Burns is one of my heroes, but Mayo Clinic … they are my number one! They saved my life in 1977, and i am forever grateful!


Thanks for this info @jamienolson Burns probably thinks I’m a little crazy tweeting him a turkey sandwich, but that’s OK! I would so love to be a part of this. It would be wonderful if they could film a segment of Dr Sood’s group. Medical innovation at its finest. Truly the heart of MC.

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