Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has a variety of projects in development — from "Jackie Robinson" (2015) to "Country Music" (2018) and "Ernest Hemingway" (2019) — but perhaps the most personal endeavor of his career will be unveiled in 2015. The 59-year-old announced yesterday that he's partnering with Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer," to create a film based on the book. The duo will collaborate with the advocacy group Stand Up to Cancer to create an educational outreach program to compliment the documentary. PBS will air the three-part, six-hour film over three nights in the spring 2015.

“My work as a filmmaker is directly linked to the death of my mother from cancer when I was 11," said Burns. "I watched her suffer and struggle with this awful disease, forever creating for me a desire to explore the past and to listen deeply to the stories that we all have to tell. I was frightened and exhilarated by Sid’s book and thrilled [to] collaborate to turn this remarkable accomplishment into a film.”

Book cover, Emperor of Maladies, about cancer
Burns was the first choice to executive produce the project, which was born years ago after the late film producer and Stand Up To Cancer co-founder, Laura Ziskin, urged Mukherjee to assign the film rights from his book to the organization. Sharon Percy Rockefeller, president and CEO of WETA Washington, D.C., (a production partner on all of Ken Burns' films), hooked up with Ziskin before her death in June 2011 and began to develop plans for the documentary.

“Cancer touches nearly everyone in this country, and public media can play a vital role in educating Americans about this disease. We will illuminate cancer as never before, exploring in depth its history, sharing the experiences of those battling it, and offering new hope by spotlighting some of the most extraordinary research being done today,” Rockefeller said. “When I read Sid’s amazing work and met him, I knew he and Ken could create a film that would inform and inspire us all. With Stand Up To Cancer and other key organizations as sponsors and outreach partners — and harnessing the resources, reach and power of the entire public broadcasting system — we will profoundly reshape Americans’ understanding and perception of cancer.”

In the months leading up to the film's premiere, Stand Up To Cancer and its partners will hold screenings and discussions in cities across the country, as well as front a massive online social media campaign to bring together and inform the general public.

“The national outreach for this film will be unprecedented in scope and impact,” said Stand Up To Cancer co-founder and journalist Katie Couric. “One in two men and one in three women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes. We firmly believe that if we are able to further engage the country in a meaningful conversation about the disease, we can better help the doctors and scientists working 24/7 to end it. Today’s research holds extraordinary promise, and since we are all affected by cancer, it’s important everyone understands that.”

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Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Ken Burns to focus next documentary on cancer
Celebrated filmmaker teams up with author Siddhartha Mukherjee to create six-hour documentary based on 'The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.'