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George Burdeau On The Magna Carta, Subsistence Culture And The Future Of Western Civilization

George Burdeau

This interview comes to us from

With Anthony Wile

Introduction: George Burdeau is a veteran director and producer, as well as a founding member of Vision Maker Media. He has won both Emmy and Peabody awards for his work and was the first Native American director in the Director’s Guild of America. He is known for such films as The Native Americans (1994), Ann of the Wolf Clan (1977) and The White Man’s Gift (1980). He is currently working on a documentary project describing the history and impact of the Magna Carta.

Daily Bell: Hello and thanks for the interview opportunity. Can you give us a little more background, explain how you got into this business?

George Burdeau: My mother was a government accountant for the Indian tribes and we led a pretty hectic life when I was a child. I traveled a good deal and went to a number of schools. I also had a talent for art and used to be obsessed by it, drawing up to 200 sketches in a day plus several paintings. As a Native American, I incorporated Indian themes and almost immediately I was a success. As an adolescent I was hanging in major galleries in the US and Europe. I was seen as a prodigy.

Daily Bell: What happened? You didn’t stick with it?

George Burdeau: All that success puts an extraordinary amount of pressure on you. I was selected to participate in the annual White House art exhibit, and my painting was featured on the catalog handed out at the White House. I was flown to DC to meet Lyndon Johnson. At the time, I’d just completed a dark painting of a mysterious man standing at a grave, and when Bobby Kennedy saw it, he wanted to buy it. But we told him it was not for sale. He was persistent. Eventually, he called my mother and offered to rent it, which he did. After his death it was returned to us.

Daily Bell: So how did you make the transition to film-making and direction?

George Burdeau: I was in college at the time and I got cancer. The doctor told me I had about six months and I decided, what the hell … I always wanted to make movies, so I dropped out of school and ended up attending a series of private classes on film-making in New York. I made a film that was good enough to receive interest and my background as a child-artist helped open doors as well. I began to work almost immediately and haven’t looked back.

Daily Bell: What happened to the cancer?

George Burdeau: The doctors called me, months later. Of course, they’d been monitoring my progress and I’d been taking chemotherapy. Anyway, they met with me and they seemed very grave. They showed me several X-rays, one at a time, and the upshot was that the cancer was gone! Entirely vanished. This was making them grave because they’d predicted another outcome, as lymphatic cancer is almost always deadly. They wanted to know what I’d done differently in my life that might have helped provide a cure. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help them. I didn’t know.

Daily Bell: That’s some way to start a career.

George Burdeau: I’ve had it again since then and beat it again. But it’s given me the attitude that you ought to live in the moment and try to do what’s most important to you.

Daily Bell: Currently – for you – that appears to be a Magna Carta documentary.

George Burdeau: Yes, I’m currently writing a screen treatment for a documentary on the Magna Carta to be distributed via PBS. Of course, until the actual shooting takes place and we have a final sign off from PBS we can’t be sure entirely sure that the project will come together, but it looks that way now. I’ll get produced one way or another. It’s an important topic.

Daily Bell: And why now?

George Burdeau: 2015 will mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta and there are numerous commemorations in the works, including potentially a memorial bank holiday. Basically, you are looking at five years of celebration leading up to the anniversary and our project is intended as an additional commemoration. The initial boost came from the US Supreme Court, which would like to see an educational commemoration – and that’s when I became involved.

Exhibitions of the Magna Carta itself are in the works and June 15th 2015 may be declared a public holiday. There are other events as well. Much of it is driven by The Magna Carta Trust, which is behind the holiday. The UK Royal Mint has been asked for a commemorative coin and perhaps a commemorative stamp may be issued. There are commemorations being planned for schools and libraries.

Daily Bell: Give us some of the nuts and bolts.

George Burdeau: The Magna Carta was signed by King John at Runnymede in 1215. The Magna Carta means Great Charter and, contrary to popular understanding, there’s not just one but 17 versions. The last one was written in 1300 – and it really was written – hand written – as there were no printing presses then. It guaranteed freedoms, including property rights to “free men” … though the number of “free men” in question was certainly limited.

Nonetheless, it was a significant statement for the times and a contentious one. It was re-negotiated four times as its parties – the English king versus his earls, bishops and barons – struggled with language and the concessions of power. While its origins resemble a family quarrel, what stemmed from the document was considerable and significant. For the United States it is actually a critical document that was studied by the Founding Fathers.

Daily Bell: Please say more about the ways it influenced the Constitution.

George Burdeau: It influenced the Constitution and Declaration of Independence both. It formally presented concepts of freedom under law and limited government. It set the stage for additional conversations about these issues that have been part of Western tradition as history has evolved. A lot has been made of the heritage of British philosophers like Locke and Hume and economists like Adam Smith, when it comes to tracing the history of the Constitution. But the Magna Carta, you could say, was the document that started it all.

Daily Bell: As you pointed out, the Magna Carta underwent a lot of revisions. Can you give us a little more history on its background and the political and military struggles that surrounded it?

George Burdeau: Sure. Some of this was new to me, too, until I researched it. What was most surprising was that the final Magna Carta differed considerably from the initial one – and was actually a good deal less radical.

Daily Bell: How so?

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