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"I Remember Barbra"

News/February 2006

In 1981, filmmaker Kevin Burns produced a short documentary about Barbra Streisand's Brooklyn days.

Our Interview with Kevin Burns
Director of "I Remember Barbra"

A Barbratimeless Exclusive!
Jan. 1, 2014 - In the summer of 1979, a young graduate student from Boston University took to the streets of Brooklyn with a single purpose in mind: to ask people about Barbra Streisand, the biggest star in the world who just happened to be the local girl-made-good.

That grad student was Kevin Burns. Armed with a 16mm camera, Burns recorded all of his interviews and produced a documentary he later submitted as his graduate thesis.

In 1981, the documentary called "I Remember Barbra" earned Burns a Masters Degree in Film, a "Student Academy Award" and a $1,000 prize. The film was broadcast nationally on Bravo shortly thereafter, and later released on video. More recently, "I Remember Barbra" was a feature presentation at the 2009 Brooklyn Film Festival.

Since it was the only professional film ever made about Barbra's Brooklyn roots, it was only fitting that clips from "I Remember Barbra" would be a part of her recent concert tour. Barbra has also included the film, remastered and in its near entirety, as a bonus feature on her "Back to Brooklyn" DVD.

After "I Remember Barbra," Burns crafted a successful career as a Hollywood director and producer. He's worked with the likes of George Lukas and director Bryan Singer, some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

We wanted to get to know a little more about this successful filmmaker - and even more about "I Remember Barbra."

The two-time Emmy winner (and eight time nominee) was happy to oblige us with this exclusive interview.

Our Interview with Kevin Burns
Director of "I Remember Barbra"


Barbratimeless: The version of "I Remember Barbra" that's on Barbra's new DVD includes one of her vocal tracks. Your original '80s version doesn't. Was there an issue with the music rights?

Kevin Burns
: First of all, you are correct. When I made the film in 1981, I couldn't afford to license the Streisand songs I wanted to use. Besides, I never thought Barbra would give me permission.

After the film won the Student Academy Award In 1981, I spent my $1,000 prize money on making a new "legal" version with original music. This was the version that aired on Bravo in the early '80s and was made available in VHS.

: How did your film end up as part of Barbra's show?

Kevin Burns
Last year I was asked by Marty Erlichman to license portions of the film for Barbra to use in her concert. I asked for nothing more than a few concert tickets in exchange.

I also asked for Marty's help in finally securing the permissions I needed to license the two Streisand songs I always envisioned being in the film. That's right -- two songs.

Barbratimeless: What were the two songs, and did Marty help you to get those licenses.

Kevin Burns
Although Barbra's recording of "I'll Be Home" now plays fittingly during the final credits -- there is another sequence at the beginning of the film where "The Main Event/Fight" was supposed to be playing in the record store.

Unfortunately, there wasn't an opportunity to clear this song before the DVD release of "Back to Brooklyn" -- and the record store sequence was deleted. Nevertheless, Marty has assured me that the complete, restored version will be made available to Barbra fans in the future.

Barbratimeless: It's been a long time since you made the film. How do you feel, now that's it's enjoying a revival?

Kevin Burns
I'm thrilled that after 33 years, everyone can finally see "I Remember Barbra" the way I had envisioned it.

Barbratimeless: Has Barbra always been aware of your film?

Kevin Burns
: I met Jon Peters briefly in 1981, just before my film won the Student Academy Award. He was in Boston (where I was living) along with his partner Peter Guber and they were in town to promote "Endless Love." I was at the screening and gave him a 16mm print of "I Remember Barbra."

I was never sure she'd actually watched it until I met Barbra briefly in the Fox commissary in 1991. We spoke about my film. Very thrilling moment in my life, I must say.

: Let's talk about the film. When did you conduct all those interviews?

Kevin Burns
: I started filming in May of 1979 and did most of the shooting that summer. Editing began in the summer of 1980 and there were a few more shoots in Brooklyn at that time. I got the first 16mm film print back from the lab in March 1981.

: How'd you hook up with all those interesting Brooklyn characters?

Kevin Burns
: A classmate of mine at BU knew the woman that told the story about being in Barbra's gym class (Jeri Jaffrey). She then connected me to Norm Schimmel and then he, in turn, connected me to Anita Phillips and the lookalike, Maryn Schiffmiller. My advisor, Arnie Baskin, was also from Brooklyn. It was a film that he did in the summer of 1978 that inspired me. Arnie introduced me to Brighton Beach and the deli.

: How did you conduct your research?

Kevin Burns
: I did a lot of reading. Old magazine articles. James Spada's book, "Barbra: The First Decade" was also very helpful. Then I made cold calls to Erasmus Hall High School, etc. That was very tough. All in all, there was a lot that went into it.

: Are you from Brooklyn?

Kevin Burns
: No. From Schenectady, NY. Brooklyn was like another world to me. I fell in love with it.

: What motivated you to make a film about Barbra? Were you a big fan?

Kevin Burns
: My sister Jo-An was a huge fan in the early '60s. I wasn't a fan, really, until I saw "The Way We Were." A large part of that film was shot in Schenectady and it was a big event when that came out. I was really impressed that Streisand had managed to remain relevant throughout the '60s (not easy to do). Now here it is -- four decades later -- and Streisand is still relevant long after many of her contemporaries have been forgotten. Incredible.

: Let's talk about some of your other career accomplishments. You won a Primetime Emmy for producing A&E's "Biography?"

Kevin Burns
: Yes.

: You were an Executive Producer of the 2006 film, "Poseidon?"

Kevin Burns
: Yes.

: And you also worked for George Lucas. Tell me about that.

Kevin Burns
: We ended up doing five "Star Wars" documentaries with Lucasfilm. We also worked with them on a two hour documentary on "Indiana Jones."

: What are you doing these days?

Kevin Burns
: After leaving Fox in 2005, I started my own company, Prometheus Entertainment. We do about 50-70 hours of (mostly cable) programming each year.


Burns Restores Streisand Vocal

November 25, 2013

Most of us have seen the Kevin Burn's 1981 documentary "I Remember Barbra." Few have seen the version that's currently being offered as a bonus feature on the new Streisand DVD, Back to Brooklyn. This is the version the young Boston University student probably wanted to release back in '81 - a version that would have included an actual Barbra Streisand vocal track had it not been for the music rights. Instead, Burns inserted a generic piano riff in the final scene when the film was first released.

Now, in this version of the film, we get to hear Barbra sing Randy Newman's "I'll Be Home" as the credits roll, most likely what Burns envisioned from the get go. Being able to use this particular Streisand vocal is a powerful inclusion and makes all the difference in the documentary.

Don't overlook the documentary when you watch Back to Brooklyn.

Documentary to Screen in Brooklyn

May 23, 2009
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle
reports that the documentary "I Remember Barbra" will be showcased during Brooklyn's film festival on June 24. The 1980 feature about Streisand's early life in Brooklyn will be presented at the Brooklyn Public Library at 7 PM. The screening is free.

The Documentary

February 23, 2006
One of the more bizarre Streisand retrospectives was the 1980 short feature (about 22 minutes long) called "I Remember Barbra." Filmmaker Kevin Burns took to the streets, shops, boardwalks, apartment houses and classrooms of Brooklyn and Erasmus Hall to document the Barbra Streisand her friends and neighbors remembered as an adolescent and up and coming performer.

Video clips of Barbra are not used in the film and neither is her music. Instead, the documentary focuses on everyday Brooklynites and their personal recollections of a favorite hometown girl.

"I Remember Barbra" is not a sophisticated piece of cinematography, but it does provide an amusing look of the all too real people who knew Barbra as a teenager growing up in Flatbush. The editing is done tongue-in-cheek as Burns interviews Barbra's high school classmates and teachers, along with a whole host of various and sundry neighborhood characters. The video is out of print.

I Remember Barbra... a graduate of our school, and we are proud of the honor that she has accorded to us by this association."
      -Principal, Erasmus Hall (1980) her biology teacher. That was in 1957. Barbra was one in a class of over 30 very bright students."
      - Barbra's teacher, Erasmus Hall a very strong student amongst many, many talented students. I recall that Miss Streisand sat in the third row, the second seat."
      - Barbra's teacher,
Erasmus Hall one of the many students that I used to escort out of Garfield's Cafeteria for cutting Erasmus Hall High School."
      - Truant Officer, Erasmus Hall

...when she was a senior. We had to swim in Erasmus in order to graduate. It took us five semesters to jump in the pool. We met, both standing on the edge of the pool, shaking."
      - Barbra's classmate

...when she was studying dramatics. I didn't know that she had this tremendous voice lurking beneath the surface. I never heard her sing. I never knew she wanted to be a singer."
      - Barbra's classmate

...when she was in high school. The most attractive thing about her was how natural she was. She had tremendous talent. She was accepted. Everybody knew who she was."
      - Barbra's classmate

...when she used to go into New York and work in nightclubs. She used to sleep in the office of a friend of mine. She would stay in New York because that's where the action was."
      - Neighborhood friend