The Washington Post

PBS to air Ken Burns’ ‘The Dust Bowl’ docu during November sweep

HANDOUT: Filmmaker Ken Burns. Photo by Jason Savage (Jason Savage/Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital)

Burns’ two part, six-hour series, produced by Burns Florentine Films and Washington D.C. PBS station WETA, will air on Sunday, Nov.18 and Monday, Nov. 19.

On the bright side, that means the companion coffee-table book, “The Dust Bowl: An Illustrated History,” written by “The Dust Bowl” writer and co-producer of Dayton Duncan, with a preface by Ken Burns, as well as “The Dust Bowl” DVD and Blu-ray from PBS Distribution, will be at the top of shoppers’ minds on Black Friday – this year, Thanksgiving falls on Nov. 22.

For those of you just discovering that the sinking of the Titanic actually happened, and was not just a figment of James Cameron’s vivid imagination: the Dust Bowl chronicles “the worst manmade ecological disaster in American history,” as PBS put it in Wednesday’s announcement.

Coinciding with the Great Depression in the 1930s, it destroyed the farmlands of the Great Plains, “turned prairies into deserts and unleashed a pattern of massive, deadly dust storms.”

With wheat prices collapsed, rather than follow the government’s urging to cut back on production, PBS noted, desperate farmers harvested even more wheat in an effort to make up for their losses. Fields were left exposed and vulnerable to a drought, which hit in 1932. “Once the winds began picking up dust from the open fields, they grew into dust storms of biblical proportions…sweeping up millions of tons of earth, covering farms and homes across the plains with sand and spreading the dust across the country.”

Children developed fatal “dust pneumonia,” business owners unable to cope with the financial ruin committed suicide, and thousands fled the region.

“But perhaps the biggest tragedy is that it was preventable,” Burns said in Wednesday’s announcement. “If we show the same neglect to the limits of nature now as we did then, it is entirely possible that this could happen again.”

“We had tried to impose our will on nature and the results were catastrophic,” added Duncan.


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