Category Archives: TV

‘Secrets of the Dead: Nero’s Sunken City’ takes a riveting look at Roman Beverly Hills

Beneath the turquoise waves of the Bay of Naples lies an extraordinary underwater archeology site, the ancient Roman city of Baiae. From the first century to the third century AD, Baiae was the exclusive playground for the rich and powerful among Rome’s elite. What made Baiae such a special place? What really went on there? And why did it disappear?

For the first time, an international team of scientists, archaeologists and historians is meticulously mapping the underwater ruins and piecing together evidence that could provide answers to these questions in the riveting documentary Secrets of the Dead: Nero’s Sunken City. The DVD will be available on May 9; the program will also be available for digital download.

While some of Baiae’s ruins remain intact on land, more than half of this coastal city is submerged under water. These underwater ruins are three times the size of those in Pompeii. Archaeologists have found a network of roads, miles of brick walls and villas with rich marble floors, and splendid mosaics. But what they haven’t found are any identifiable public buildings, no forum, temple or market place.

The remains consist of one vast luxury villa after another–a Roman Beverly Hills–with elaborate spas and water features, marble statues inspired by Greek art, ponds for farming fish and more. The villas were like mini-cities. No expense was spared to create these seaside vacation homes where barges floating in the bay were the site of raucous parties.

More than any other emperor, Nero was infamous for his hedonism and Baiae was his escape. Here, he could indulge in his sadistic fantasies. But Baiae was more than a place of opulence, the Las Vegas of its day. It was also the site of some of the most treacherous political dealings of ancient Rome with Emperor Nero and his enemies hatching deadly plots against each other.

What lengths was Nero willing to take to gain his Aunt Domitia’s villa? What plans did Gaius Calpurnius Piso, a wealthy nobleman, have for the emperor as he vacationed at his villa?  What scheme did Nero devise in Baiae to end the power struggle with his mother?

In the fourth century AD, seismic activity caused half of Baiae to sink into the bay. Located 150 miles south of Rome, Baiae remains one of the least explored places in the Roman Empire. Until now.

‘Viva Puerto Rico’ documents the work of three conservationists restoring the island’s most endangered species

Manatees, parrots and turtles, oh my! There are important conservation efforts underway in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to protect its endangered native wildlife from extinction on land and sea. Once home to ancient rainforests that covered the Caribbean island when Columbus first landed in 1493, centuries of development have impacted Puerto Rico’s rich natural resources. By 1900, only five percent of its rainforests remained, causing a major loss of habitat.

Nature: Viva Puerto Rico (PBS Distribution) follows the work of three conservationists and the ways in which each is trying to restore populations of the island’s most endangered species:  the Puerto Rican Amazon parrot, Leatherback turtle and the manatee. The documentary  will be available on DVD May 16; the program will also be available for digital download.

The film states that there was a time when only 13 Puerto Rican Amazon parrots were left in existence. But wildlife biologist Jafet Vélez-Valentín, who manages the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program, has devoted his life to increasing their numbers. He and his team run a captive breeding program for these rare birds at an undisclosed location in the rainforest. They have developed techniques to improve the number of chicks that hatch. They employ exercise training for the juveniles to build up their wing muscles and increase their ability to fly long enough to evade predators in the wild. The episode documents the release of Vélez-Valentín’s largest ever flock, composed of 24 parrots, into El Yunque National Forest increasing the wild population by 10%.

The warm tropical waters surrounding Puerto Rico are home to five threatened native species of sea turtles. Carlos Diez is a world-renowned turtle conservationist whose research on the Hawksbill turtle led to an international trade ban on its shell. Diez documents the key evidence needed to make the legal case to protect a crucial nesting site of the endangered Leatherback turtle from potential development at Dorado Beach. At night, a female Leatherback emerges from the sea to dig her nest two feet down in the sand, then lays about 80 eggs. Two months later, the last of the hatchlings are seen at sunrise making a mad dash to the ocean to evade capture by sea birds. Diez then presents his testimony in court along with other members of the community and the judge decides the fate of the beach.

The final story takes place at the Manatee Conservation Center where Dr. Antonio (“Tony”) Mignucci and his team care for, treat, and rehabilitate injured and stranded marine mammals. The film focuses on Mignucci’s efforts to prepare two juvenile manatees for a return to the sea. Before that happens, they will need to weigh at least 600 pounds each and be in good health.

With only 700 manatees left in the Puerto Rican waters, it is hoped the two manatees, a male and female, will also breed when they are released. When it’s time to transport the pair to a fenced off area of a bay to allow them time to acclimatize, the Center receives all kinds of help from the National Guard, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, the police, and dozens of volunteers. In three months, the gates to the sea pen will open to allow the manatees to head into the ocean. As for the island’s rainforests, more than 60 percent are starting to recover as conservation awareness and efforts continue to be adopted by the people of Puerto Rico.

Was Leonardo da Vinci a true renaissance man . . . or a fraud?

His notebooks contain plans for hundreds of inventions, including the machine guns, diving suits, construction cranes, robots and flying machines that would be created hundreds of years later. Was Leonardo da Vinci a genius? A prophet who anticipated the modern age by 500 years? Or was there another explanation?

The answer can be found in Secrets of the Dead: Leonardo, the Man Who Save Science. Da Vinci is, of course, best known as one of the world’s greatest artists. At his death in 1519, he was famous for such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. But he was more than a painter: He was also a musician, writer and showman. In the pages of his notebooks, written in a secretive reverse script, and unpublished for more than 400 years, we discover yet another Leonardo, the man of science.

https://youtu.be/byQFzbZhX8s

Secrets of the Dead: Leonardo, the Man Who Save Science (PBS Distrbution) will be available on DVD May 2; the program will also be available for digital download.

One of the many inventions attributed to Leonardo is the parachute. But did he actually invent it? In 1968, researchers discovered sketches from the studio of 15th-century Italian inventor Mariano do Jacopa, known as Taccola, which were similar to Leonardo’s study for such a device.

Taccola, who was 70 years older than Leonardo and died the year before Leonardo was born, was an engineer of the early Renaissance and among the first to use drawings as a design tool. But just as Leonardo copied from him, Taccola’s idea is copied from a Muslim inventor, Abbas Ibn Firnas.

The program features drawings of da Vinci’s most famous ideas and inventions, some of which trace their original creation to ancient Greece while others were a product of the scientific inventions of the golden age of Islamic learning. Leonardo never affirmed that his projects came from his original ideas.

Is Leonardo just a copycat?  Or, as the program suggests, did he, in reinventing ancient technology, spark a renewed interest in scientific experimentation lost in Europe during the Dark Ages until the Renaissance. “Dealing with a problem or understanding a phenomenon for him meant to see how it is related to other phenomena,” says Fritjof Capra, historian of science. “In this way, I think, he generated what we now call the scientific method, and he single-handedly created the scientific method.”

 As one of PBS’s ongoing limited primetime series, Secrets of the Dead is a perennial favorite among viewers, routinely ranking among the 10 most-watched series on public television. Currently in its 16th season, Secrets of the Dead continues its unique brand of archaeological sleuthing and employing advances in investigative techniques, forensic science and historical scholarship to offer new evidence about forgotten mysteries. Secrets of the Dead has received 10 CINE Golden Eagle Awards and six Emmy nominations, among numerous other awards.

 

Climate change doesn’t exist? Only idiots believe that. Welcome to “Wild Weather”

Climate change doesn’t exist? Then catch PBS Distribution’s Wild Weatheon DVD. Weather: It’s big, it’s beautiful–and it’s wild.

Nature takes simple ingredients like wind, water and temperature and transforms them into something spectacular and powerful. This documentary reveals exactly how it does it. The only way to truly understand the weather is to get inside it. This program features scientists from around the globe who are creating their own weather in an attempt to examine the secret processes at work.

 

Scientists such as Dr. Nigel Tapper of Monash University (Australia) tries to create his own massive dust storm so he can examine the microscopic moments when dust particles begin to bounce high into the stratosphere. Engineers Jim Stratton and Craig Zehrung from Purdue University,  use a high powered “vacuum cannon” to fire homemade hailstones at over 500 mph. It sounds like fun, but their work has a serious purpose: to discover whether hail is actually stronger than ordinary ice.

Meanwhile Walter Steinkogler of the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF in Davos, Switzerland, is trying to find out how something as light and delicate as snow can travel at 250 m.p.h when it’s in an avalanche. His solution is to start an avalanche of his own in an attempt to see the secret snowballs he believes are hiding beneath the powder cloud.

Dr. Kazunori Kuwana from Yamagata University, Japan has spent the last 10 years trying to capture the rare moment that can turn a bushfire into a formidable fire whirlwind. Here he fulfills a lifelong ambition by starting a 10-meter high fire whirl of his own.

American meteorologist Reed Timmer, together with a bizarre tornado-proof armored car called “The Dominator 3,” is attempting to do something that no-one has ever done before: fire a flying probe right into the heart of a tornado.

As Reed explains, “near the base of the tornado is one of the biggest mysteries of tornado science and it’s also the most important to understand because those are the wind speeds that cause all the destruction.” The show follows Reed and his team on their groundbreaking mission.

Meanwhile Dan Morgan of the U.K.’s Cobham Laboratories creates lightning bolts in his lab to try and measure the destructive power not of lightning, but of thunder. Although we think of thunder as merely the sound of lightning, it is actually a powerful destructive force of its own. In a world-first, Wild Weather makes it possible to actually see thunder for the first time.

Wild Weather  is a fresh and informative documentary featuring a series of ambitious, surprising and revealing experiments that will change the way you think about weather forever.

The DVD goes on sale May 2; the program will also be available for digital download.

“Frontline: Exodus” explores first-hand stories of refugees and migrants seeking better lives

The horrors continue. They are not dreams, but real-life nightmares that remain embedded on our minds with profound grief. Since 2011, millions of people have fled their homes in Syria and other countries besieged by violence, helping to fuel Europe’s largest migration crisis since the end of World War II.

Frontline: Exodus (PBS Distribution) explores the epic, first-hand stories of refugees and migrants as they make dangerous journeys across 26 countries seeking safety and better lives. The program draws on camera and smartphone footage filmed by refugees and migrants themselves–from inside a sinking dinghy on a route across the Mediterranean Sea where thousands have died, to the tents and fires inside Calais’s notorious “Jungle” camp. The riveting documentary is available on DVD; the program will also be available for digital download.

Through its harrowing access and intimacy, the program vividly exposes a shadow-world of human traffickers exploiting the crisis for profit, how countries are handling the influx of people, and the challenges and choices these refugees and migrants face every day.

“Anyone can become a refugee,” says Hassan, a former English teacher who fled his home in Damascus, after he says he was beaten by government forces. “It’s not something which you choose, it’s something that happens to you.”

Hassan’s journey is one of several at the heart of the program. Viewers will also hear the stories of:

  • Isra’a, a young Syrian girl who fled Aleppo with her family, including her disabled sister, after a missile destroyed their home.
  • Ahmad, who fled Syria when his village was invaded by Islamist extremists, and who is trying to reunite with his wife and young daughter.
  • Alaigie, a young Gambian man whose father recently died, and who dreams of reaching Italy and lifting his brothers and sisters out of poverty.
  • Sadiq, who fled Afghanistan to escape the Taliban, and now wants to start a new life in Finland.

Together, their stories paint an indelible portrait of this global crisis, and what it means to be a refugee.

“I am a refugee, I am just like you, I have a family, I have dreams, I’ve got hopes,” says Ahmad. “I just want a peaceful life away from violence.”

 

Independent Lens focuses, finally, on D.W. Griffith’s racist “Birth of a Nation”

More than 100 years after the release of D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, which depicted the KKK as heroes and African Americans in the most racist caricatures imaginable,  there’s (finally!) a documentary that recounts the little-known story of the battle waged against the film by an early and largely forgotten civil rights activist named William Monroe Trotter. Angered by the film’s unrepentant racism, Trotter led African Americans in a pitched battle against the film’s exhibition that culminated with protests in the streets of Boston, laying the foundation for the civil rights movement to come.

Welcome to  PBS Distribution’s Independent Lens: Birth of a Movement on DVD.  The program will also be available for digital download.

As the first African American Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard University, Trotter decried the film as a flagrantly racist glorification of the Klan, and as a dangerous and powerful new form of propaganda that would lead to the lynching of African Americans. Together with W.E.B Du Bois, Trotter founded the Niagara Movement, a national network of black activists that would grow into the NAACP.

Griffith’s film, originally titled The Clansman, opened in 1915, as America was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil War. Although virulently racist, the film—a powerful retelling of Reconstruction that portrays the Ku Klux Klan as righteous vigilantes restoring America to greatness—was lauded in the press, and became the first film ever to screen in the White House. It was seen by a quarter of America’s population and transformed Hollywood and the history of cinema.

Ironically, it was Trotter who called for censorship of The Birth of a Nation to control “hate speech,” while Griffith advocated for freedom of artistic expression. Ultimately, Trotter would lose the battle as the film went on to become the first financial blockbuster and established racial stereotyping as a bankable trope. His fears that the film would unleash racial violence proved true; the film is credited with inspiring the rebirth of the Klan which, by the ’20s, was bigger than ever before.

Through interviews such sources as with Spike Lee (whose NYU student film The Answer was a response to Griffith’s film), Reginald Hudlin and DJ Spooky, Birth of a Movement explores how Griffith’s epic—long taught in film classes as a groundbreaking work of genius—motivated generations of African American filmmakers and artists as they worked to fight and reclaim their history and their onscreen image.

In the wake of the “#OscarsSoWhite” controversy, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and increasing social and political turmoil, the program traces the line between Griffith’s controversial epic and Hollywood’s continued legacy of misrepresentation and negative racial stereotypes. Based on the book The Birth of a Movement: How Birth of a Nation Ignited the Battle for Civil Rights, by Dick Lehr, the film features interviews with historians, writers and filmmakers and is narrated by Danny Glover.

John Lewis continues an unwavering fight for justice. His motto: “Get in the Way”

For more than 50 years, he has had one main goal: To continue an unwavering fight for justice. The life and career of John Lewis will be documented in the fascinating documentary John LewisGet in the Way. This is the first documentary biography of Lewis, the son of sharecroppers, who grew up in rural isolation, seemingly destined for a bleak future in the Jim Crow South.

But Lewis took a different path, rising from Alabama’s Black Belt to the corridors of power on Capitol Hill, his humble origins forever linking him to those whose voices often go unheard.PBS Distribution releases John Lewis–Get in the Way on April 18.The program will also be available for digital download.

The program covers more than half a century, tracing Lewis’ journey of courage, confrontation and hard-won triumphs. At the age of 15, his life changed forever when he heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio. It was 1955, during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Lewis listened with rapt attention as the young preacher called for nonviolent resistance to the harsh injustice of segregation. Lewis embraced Dr. King’s spiritual call with a fervor that would transform the course of his life.

As a student activist in the vanguard of the civil rights movement, Lewis was arrested and jailed for the first time during the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins in 1960. During the 1961 Freedom Rides, he was repeatedly assaulted by angry mobs. He was the youngest speaker at the historic 1963 March on Washington, and in March 1965, Lewis led the Bloody Sunday march in Selma, Alabama, where state troopers attacked peaceful protesters with billy clubs, bullwhips and tear gas. Their horrific actions were broadcast on news reports into living rooms across America; eight months later, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.

Following a film festival run and featuring never-before-seen interviews shot over 20 years, the program features Lewis, a masterful storyteller, relating the gripping tale of his role in these history-making events. Other key interviewees include civil rights activists Andrew Young, C.T. Vivian, Juanita Abernathy and Bernard Lafayette, as well as Lewis’ congressional colleagues Eleanor Holmes Norton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Emanuel Cleaver and Amory Houghton.

Once an activist pushing from the outside, Lewis, now 77 years old, has become a determined legislator creating change from the inside. Considered by many to be the conscience of Congress, with equal measures of modesty and forcefulness, Lewis strives to persuade D.C. power brokers to hear the voices of the unheard. He fights for those suffering from discrimination, poverty, poor education, police brutality, inaccessible healthcare and limitations on voting rights. Despite setbacks—and there have been many—John Lewis’ eyes remain on the prize.

 

Masterpiece indeed! “To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters” comes to Blu-ray and DVD

Ever since they were revealed to the world as quaint country-women and not the notorious Bell brothers of their pseudonyms, the Brontë sisters have fascinated legions of devoted readers. PBS Distribution goes a few steps further with the release Masterpiece: To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters on DVD and Blu-ray. The program, will be available on Blu-ray and DVD and Blu-ray April 11; the program will also be available for digital download.

Written and directed by Sally Wainwright, the program makes a perfect companion to Masterpiece’s past adaptations of Brontë novels: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1997), Wuthering Heights (1998 and 2009), and Jane Eyre (2007).

Depicting the evolution of secluded, dutiful clergyman’s daughters into authors of the most controversial fiction of the 1840s, the drama stars Finn Atkins as Charlotte, who shocked society with her edgy epic, Jane Eyre; Chloe Pirrie as Emily, author of the darkly gothic and disturbing Wuthering Heights; and Charlie Murphy as Anne, whose true-to-life love story The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was deemed “coarse and disgusting” by Victorian critics.

Also starring are Jonathan Pryce as their distracted father, Reverend Patrick Brontë; and Adam Nagaitis as the sisters’ only brother, Branwell, whose wild and dissipated life contributed to vivid characters in each of their novels.

To Walk Invisible was filmed in and around Haworth, the picturesque Yorkshire village where the Brontë sisters lived and which is now a mecca for Brontëphiles from all over the world. Scenes at their parsonage home were shot in an exact replica that recreates the feel of a lived-in mid-19th-century provincial dwelling, with the sisters congregating around the dining table to pen their stories and plot their editorial strategy.

“The Bronte Sisters”, also known as the “Pillar Portrait,” was painted by their brother Branwell in the 1830s. Left to right is Anne, Emily and Charlotte. This is the only surviving group portrait of the sisters. Most contemporary comments on Branwell’s portrait paintings agreed that they were “poorly executed” but there was no criticism of the resemblances, which were considered “good.”

Based largely on Charlotte’s voluminous letters, the film follows the Brontë sisters in the eventful three-year period that saw them rise from ordinary, unmarried women, taking care of the household and their widowed father, to the secret authors of the world’s most sensational literature.

Although he never suspected it, Branwell was the inspiration. A would-be poet and artist, he was a complete failure due to alcoholism and opium addiction. As Reverend Brontë slowly went blind, Branwell was on an even more precipitous downward slide, inciting the sisters to do something to keep the family out of the poor house.

They had already tried being governesses—a thankless job except it provided good material for novels. So they set about turning personal experiences, keen observations, and unflinching honesty into fiction. Worried that female writers wouldn’t be taken seriously, they adopted male-sounding pseudonyms: Currer Bell for Charlotte, Ellis Bell for Emily and Acton Bell for Anne, retaining their own initials.

The last name, Bell, may have been inspired by the arrival of a new set of bells for their father’s church, a momentous event in Haworth. Another possible source is the middle name of Reverend Brontë’s assistant priest, Arthur Bell Nicholls (Rory Fleck Byrne), who later married Charlotte after the tragically early deaths of her siblings.

But Charlotte gave her publisher a deeper reason for anonymity—and provided the title for this film: “I think if a good fairy were to offer me the choice of a gift, I would say—grant me the power to walk invisible.”

The conversation continues in the must-see documentary “The Talk: Race in America”

There’s an increasingly common conversation taking place in homes and communities across the country between parents of color and their children, especially sons, about how to behave if they are ever stopped by the police. In many homes, “the talk,” as it is called, usually contains phrases like this:

If you are stopped by the police: Always answer “yes sir, no sir”; never talk back; don’t make any sudden movements; don’t put your hands in your pockets; obey all commands; if you think you are falsely accused, save it for the police station. I would rather pick you up at the station than the morgue . . .

This important and essential (and shamefully needed) conversation is highlighted in PBS Distribution’s The Talk: Race in America.  The two-hour documentary will be available on DVD April 4; the program will also be available for digital download.

The film will present six personal stories to illustrate the issue from multiple points of view: Parent, child, the police and the community. Filmed across the country, in communities including Long Beach, California; Oakland, California; St. Louis, Missouri; Richland County, South Carolina; Memphis, Tennessee; and Cleveland, Ohio, the stories will include interviews with academics, police force members, community activists and family members.

Among those profiled are activist and founder of The Ethics Project, Dr. Christi Griffin, who, after living through the traumatic events of Ferguson, created “Parent 2 Parent,” a series of conversations with black parents talking with white parents about “the talk” with their black sons; Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice, who was a 12-year-old boy killed by the Cleveland police while playing with a toy gun in a local park; Reverend Catherine Brown, who was assaulted by Chicago Police in front of her children in her own car; Trevena Garel, retired sergeant, New York City Police Department (NYPD), who has investigated allegations of misconduct involving both uniformed and/or civilian members of the NYPD; Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President and retired officer, New York City Police Department (NYPD); the Ramirez family, whose 28-year-old son, Oscar, was shot and killed by a Los Angeles County sheriff in Paramount, California, a community southeast of Los Angeles; and members of the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy, who share the protocols for using lethal force and describe the danger from a police officer’s point of view.

In addition, sharing their own stories are Kenya Barris, creator/executive producer of Peabody Award-winning ABC series black-ish; Nas, musician/activist; Rosie Perez, actor/director, activist; John Singleton, director/screenwriter/producer; and New York Times columnist Charles Blow.

Each story is produced by a different filmmaker to ensure that diverse perspectives are presented. The project’s director and supervising producer, filmmaker Sam Pollard, an Academy Award nominee and multiple Emmy winner; and Oscar nominee Julie Anderson, closely oversaw the producers and managed the overall creative look, storytelling and structure.

 The Talk: Race in America will also be accompanied by an engagement campaign. Social media conversations will explore the topics of community policing, the power of representation in media and how to talk to children about race. Online audience members will also be invited to share their experiences of having or giving “the talk.” Visit PBS.org/thetalk for exclusive video content, special features and more.

“American Experience: The Great War” offers promises made that have been long forgotten

It was a war whose participants were to “make the safe for democracy”. That has been largely forgotten.

Drawing on the latest scholarship, including unpublished diaries, memoirs and letters, American Experience: The Great War (PBS Distribution) tells the rich and complex story of World War I through the voices of nurses, journalists, aviators and the American troops who came to be known as “doughboys.”

The three-disc set, featuring the voices of Campbell Scott, Blythe Danne and Courtney Vance, will be available on DVD May 16; the program will also be available for digital download.

Can’t wait? The Great War premieres Monday, April 10, through Wednesday, April 12, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET (check local listings) on PBS.

The series explores the experiences of African-American and Latino soldiers, suffragists, Native-American “code talkers” and others whose participation in the war to “make the world safe for democracy” has been largely forgotten. The program also explores how a brilliant PR man bolstered support for the war in a country hesitant to put lives on the line for a foreign conflict; how President Woodrow Wilson steered the nation through three-and-a-half years of neutrality, only to reluctantly lead America into the bloodiest conflict the world had ever seen, thereby transforming the United States into a dominant player on the international stage; and how the ardent patriotism and determination to support America’s crusade for liberty abroad led to one of the most oppressive crackdowns on civil liberties at home in American history.

It is also a story of little known heroism and sacrifice (including the deadliest battle in American history) that would leave more than 53,000 men dead on the battlefield and more than 60,000 dead from disease. American fatalities would come at a critical time in the war, but they would be dwarfed by a cataclysm of violence that would ultimately claim 15 million lives.