She has been distinctly referred to as “a redwood tree, with deep roots in American culture.” She is a woman who has gone out on many limbs to make the world a better, safer and more living place.
Dr. Maya Angelou led a prolific life. As a singer, dancer, activist, poet and writer, she inspired generations with lyrical modern African-American thought that pushed boundaries. Best known for her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she gave people the freedom to think about their history in a way they never had before.
Her story is told in the marvelous American Masters: Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, making its national broadcast premiere on Tuesday, February 21 at 8 p.m. on PBS as a continuing celebration of part of Black History. The DVD of the documentary will also be available (from PBS Distribution) that same done, and will include bonus features. The program will also be available for digital download.
With unprecedented access, filmmakers Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack trace Dr. Angelou’s incredible journey, shedding light on the untold aspects of her life through never-before-seen footage, rare archival photographs and videos and her own words. From her upbringing in the Depression-era South and her early performing career (1957’s Miss Calypso album and Calypso Heat Wave film, Jean Genet’s 1961 play The Blacks) to her work with Malcolm X in Ghana and her many writing successes, including her inaugural poem for President Bill Clinton, American Masters: Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise reveals hidden facets of her life during some of America’s most defining moments.
The film also features exclusive interviews with Dr. Angelou, her friends and family, including Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Common, Alfre Woodard, Cicely Tyson, Quincy Jones, Hillary Clinton, Louis Gossett, Jr., John Singleton, Diahann Carroll, Valerie Simpson, Random House editor Bob Loomis and Dr. Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson.
American Masters: Maya Angelou: And Still I Risepremiered to critical acclaim at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. It won the Audience Award at AFI Docs and was featured at notable film festivals worldwide, including Full Frame, Sheffield, IDFA and Seattle, winning 17 awards on three continents, and has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award.
The show’s title comes from an Angelou poem:
“Out of the huts of history’s shame / I rise / Up from a past that’s rooted in pain / I rise / I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide, / Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. / Leaving behind nights of terror and fear / I rise / Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear / I rise.”
On Thanksgiving Day 1950, American-led United Nations troops were on the march in North Korea. U.S. Marine and Air Force pilots distributed holiday meals, even to those on the front lines. Hopes were high that everyone would be home by Christmas. But soon after that peaceful celebration, American military leaders, including General Douglas MacArthur, were caught off guard by the entrance of the People’s Republic of China, led by Mao Zedong, into the five-month-old Korean War.
Twelve thousand men of the First Marine Division, along with a few thousand Army soldiers, suddenly found themselves surrounded, outnumbered and at risk of annihilation at the Chosin Reservoir, high in the mountains of North Korea. The two-week battle that followed, fought in brutally cold temperatures, is one of the most celebrated in Marine Corps annals and helped set the course of American foreign policy in the Cold War and beyond. Incorporating interviews with more than 20 veterans of the campaign, American Experience: Battle of Chosin recounts this epic conflict through the heroic stories of the men who fought it.
The PBS Distribution documentary will be available on DVD on January 24; the program will also be available for digital download.
The events that led to the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir started five months earlier when Korea unexpectedly became the battleground for the first hot conflict of the Cold War. Split across the middle at the 38th parallel in the political settlement that followed World War II, the Korean peninsula had solidified into separate states by 1950.
The two new governments symbolized the rising struggle between the world’s dominant political ideologies: democracy and communism. The Soviet Union and Mao Zedong’s new Communist China supported North Korea while South Korea had the backing of the United States and other Western democracies. This balance of power held until June 25, 1950, when North Korea led a surprise attack against South Korea and quickly overran most of the Korean peninsula.
The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution to end the hostilities in Korea and authorized the United States military to lead a multi-national force against North Korea. President Harry Truman told the world that the United States would take “whatever steps were necessary” to contain Communist expansion in Korea. This included the possibility of unleashing nuclear weapons on China. Fears of World War III filled the news.
Under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, American-led forces had turned back North Korea’s aggression. MacArthur then set his sights on quickly pushing north to the Chinese border and reuniting the country under democratic rule. On the eve of MacArthur’s final offensive, the First Marine Division was strung out on a single 78-mile-long supply route leading to the Chosin Reservoir.
Mao Zedong had won a long and deadly civil war a year earlier and united China under the communist flag. When MacArthur’s UN forces threatened his border in the fall of 1950, Mao decided to act. By late November 1950, tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers had quietly infiltrated North Korea and surrounded MacArthur’s forces. On the night of November 27, Mao sprung his trap at the Chosin Reservoir.
The worst of the Chinese onslaught landed on the forces encamped in the hills around the Chosin Reservoir—the First Marine Division, under the command of General Oliver P. Smith, and a small, attached Army unit. Night after night, Mao’s army swept down from the hills and attacked the vastly outnumbered American troops.
The only hope for the surrounded men was to fight their way back to the coast, a perilous journey into the teeth of a subarctic winter, through tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers waiting in the high ground above the single road out. For the next two weeks, General Smith’s men fought brutal battles against the Chinese in some of the harshest conditions American forces had ever experienced. Dead bodies, frozen in grotesque and contorted shapes, littered the battlefield. Finally, 14,000 surviving troops made their way back to safety.
The carefully staged withdrawal succeeded and also inflicted devastating losses on the enemy. Two Chinese divisions were entirely destroyed, and an estimated 40,000 Chinese soldiers were killed.
Thousands of North Korean refugees were also fleeing south, many trailing the column of Marines. Nearly 100,000 refugees were part of the massive evacuation of American and UN troops out of North Korea.
It’s certainly a hot topic: The coldest and snowiest places on earth pose a challenge to anyone visiting such locations as the Arctic Circle or Antarctica, but what about the year-round animal population? How do they cope for many months with life in these frozen wonderlands where temperatures can plummet to as low as minus 50 degrees?
In Nature: Snowbound: Animals of Winter (PBS Distribution), Gordon Buchanan, a wildlife cameraman used to filming in frigid lands around the globe, explains how creatures like the wolf, Arctic fox, bison, reindeer, lynx, weasel, polar bear, penguin, Weddell seal and woolly bear caterpillar adapt to their surroundings or employ clever tactics to survive in these extreme climates. The documentary will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on February 7; the program will also be available for digital download.
In the opening segment, Buchanan is seen calmly stroking the thick coat of a wolf in Norway’s Polar Park where wolves have grown up with humans. He shows how the wolf’s fine hairs provide much needed insulation, while its longer, outer hairs repel snow and water. Also helping to reduce a wolf’s heat loss, despite its paws being in constant contact with ice and snow, is an ingenious adaptation: An image displayed on a thermal camera illustrates that as a wolf’s warm blood flows down its leg, it cools down. This means only cold blood stays within the paws and all the warm blood can remain within the body.
The Arctic fox however has a different solution to keeping warm during the winter months: its thin brown summer coat undergoes an amazing transformation to one that is white, very fluffy and 200 percent thicker, the warmest coat of all arctic mammals.
The film also cites hibernation as another cold weather strategy practiced by several animals including the brown bear, ground squirrel, and polar bear. Buchanan explains that even though a female polar bear’s heart rate drops dramatically in hibernation and she doesn’t eat or drink and relies solely on fat reserves, she can still give birth during this time. The cubs are kept warm by her body heat and grow quickly due to their mother’s extremely fatty milk. The wildlife cameraman is on hand as tiny twin cubs crawl out of their winter den to explore the outside world.
Possessing super senses gives other animals an edge when it comes to successfully hunting prey during the big freeze. Buchanan describes how a lynx can use its keen vision to spot a mouse 80 yards away or the benefits a reindeer has with ultra violet vision. He also remarks on how the great grey owl employs its super sensitive hearing to detect the movement of mice or voles beneath two feet of snow. Similarly, a young Arctic fox can pick up the faint sound of lemmings under the snow. To nab its unseen victim, the fox performs a special pouncing technique known as mousing. Buchanan says foxes align their pounce to the earth’s magnetic field in order to pinpoint the right spot for the kill. The film concludes with the remarkable metamorphosis of the Arctic woolly bear caterpillar that spends most of its life frozen stiff during the winter months and miraculously thaws itself in the spring, as if rising from the dead.
Whether it’s undergoing a physical adaptation, using super senses, employing clever tactics to gain the advantage, or just being built for frigid conditions, these animals of winter not only subsist, but thrive in some of the coldest places on earth.
Art isn’t easy. That’s what Sondheim says. But Loretta Swit makes it look so . . . well, maybe not easy, but gorgeous that Ed Asner contributes it to the actress’ “animal magnetism.”
This year marks the 45th anniversary of M*A*S*H, and at 79, Swit is as active now as she was then, currently touring the country with the release of her book SwitHeart: The Watercolour Artistry & Animal Activism of Loretta Swit (Ultimate Symbol, $49) as she prepares for her roles in the stage productions of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeksand Eleanor Roosevelt: Her Secret Journey.
SwitHeart chronicles the artwork of Swit, such a champion of the animal kingdom that she received the Betty Award Award–“for all she has done to protect and care for animals”–from Actors & Others for Animals on last month. In September, she was awarded the 2016 Global Wildlife Conservation Champion Award by the GES Africa Conservation Fund for her support of animal conservation efforts, kindness, compassion and generosity. Ask her and she’d probably agree such awards mean more to her than the two Emmys she won for her portrayal of Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan.
What many fans may not know about is that Swit has been an artist from age six. SwitHeart documents her animal portraits along with descriptive anecdotes about each and her extensive philanthropic work. “I’m thrilled to see my passion for animals and my passion for art merge in a book that will help benefit and protect the animals on our planet,” she coos.
Coos M*A*S*H star Alan Alda: ““Her pictures are created as much with her compassion and dedication as they are with her talent and artful vision.”
SwitHeart includes 65 full-color paintings and drawings, as well as 22 photographs. Proceeds from the book will be donated to charities and programs that are as dedicated, as Swit is, to ending animal suffering and cruelty. Someone named Mies Hora is listed as “writer/editor”; the book must have been outsourced for printing since spelling of “watercolours” is so unAmerican.
PBS Distribution will be releasing a DVD that has been dubbed being called “an urgent wake-up call” about the national threat posed by Alzheimer’s disease. Many know the unique tragedy of this disease, but few know that Alzheimer’s is one of the most critical public health crises facing America. The powerful documentary Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts illuminates the social and economic consequences for the country unless a medical breakthrough is discovered for this currently incurable disease.
Save the date: The documentary will be available on DVD February 21; the program will also be available for digital download.
There are more than five million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease. Because of the growing number of aging baby boomers, and the fact that the onset of Alzheimer’s is primarily age-related, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s is projected to rise by 55% by 2030; by 2050 the Alzheimer’s Association estimates the total number could explode to nearly 14 million.
This “tsunami” of Alzheimer’s will not only be a profound human tragedy, but an overwhelming economic one as well. Because of the length of time people live with the illness and need care, it’s the most expensive medical condition in the U.S. Future costs for Alzheimer’s threaten to bankrupt Medicare, Medicaid and the life savings of millions of Americans. It is estimated that if the number of patients increases as projected in the years ahead, the costs to care for them will exceed $1.1 trillion.
With power and passion, the program weaves together the sobering statistics about Alzheimer’s, expert commentary and compelling personal stories filmed around the country that represent previews of the future happening today.
The dreaded day comes Friday, but we found a great new PBS Distribution two-disc DVD that trumps it all: 16 for ’16: The Contenders. The multi-part documentary features candidates in the most contentious and compelling political campaigns of the last 50 years and includes interviews with candidates and their inner circles that offer unexpected human moments and new insights into political battles for the U.S. presidency.
Each part in the program features two candidates whose stories appear vastly different on the surface but share common elements that changed the outcomes of campaigns and the course of history.
16 for ’16: The Contenders will be available on DVD January 24; the program will also be available for digital download.
The program kicks off with one such unlikely pair: 1972 presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm, the first black American and first female to run for the country’s top post, and Senator John McCain, who ran against George W. Bush in the 2000 primaries and against Barack Obama for the presidency in 2008. Despite extraordinarily different backgrounds, Chisholm and McCain both ran as plain-spoken outsiders. Chisholm’s slogan, “Unbossed and Unbought,” was underscored by a grassroots approach that saw her teams collecting cash in the streets, while McCain’s image as an outspoken maverick often led him to speak off-the-cuff.
The show depicts game-changing moments in both campaigns: Chisholm’s betrayal by a friend in the House of Representatives who, at the last moment, decided he would not officially nominate her; and a revealing off-camera show-down between McCain and George W. Bush just prior to a live debate.
The second part revisits the campaigns of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean and conservative insider Pat Buchanan—men of two divergent perspectives who were seen as insurrectionists within their own parties. Dean provided a voice for furious Democrats who opposed the war in Iraq and brought “participatory democracy” innovations to his campaign, such as the introduction of Internet fundraising that is now a standard part of campaigns.
Buchanan—a so-called “paleo-conservative” insider who served several American presidents and advocated a strong move rightward for the Republican Party—ran twice for the Republican presidential nomination (1992 and 1996) and on the Reform Party ticket in 2000. Despite the strategies, scripts, data analysis and marketing that went into these campaigns, it was, again, the human moments that led to their unpredicted outcomes. For Dean, it was the excitement (and problematic acoustics) that gave rise to his infamous, campaign-imploding “scream.” For Buchanan, who had barely recovered from heart surgery at his first convention in 1992, a decision to go off the party script and detail his concept of a “cultural war” for the soul of America resulted in a speech that many believe divided Republicans and propelled Bill Clinton to the White House.
Pairings for the balance of the series include: Mitt Romney and Michael Dukakis; Gary Hart and Jesse Jackson; Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan; Ross Perot and Ralph Nader; Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin; and George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Featured alongside the candidates, their families and their friends are a who’s who of campaign managers, observers and Washington, D.C., insiders such as Susan Estrich, Karl Rove, Donna Brazile, Karen Hughes and dozens more. Through background stories of groundbreaking campaign moments, fatal missteps, behind-the-scenes insights and lessons learned by each candidate, the series explores deeper questions such as “Can a positive campaign be a winning campaign?” and “Should a single misstep define a campaign and a candidate?”
You gotta have friends. Sometimes you gotta have remakes. It will be interesting if Idina Menzel and Nia Long can stir up more (read = better) memories and deeper sobs when they star as lifelong best friends in the remake of the Bette Midler-Barbara Hershey flick Beaches. The new flick, an Original Lifetime movie, premiers on Saturday, January 21 at 8 p.m. (ET/PT).
Want an earlier taste? Warner Bros. Records. has already released a five-song soundtrack EP performed by Menzel. The disc features new takes on the classic songs “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “The Glory of Love,” as well as “I Can Hear the Music,” “I’ll Stand by You,” and “Last Time” recorded specifically for the movie.
In this contemporary remake, Beaches follows the serendipitous meeting of two young girls on the Venice Boardwalk, who, though worlds apart in lifestyle, embark on an unexpected and lifelong friendship. CC (Menzel) is an aspiring singer trying to make it in Los Angeles until she is discovered by a director who gives her her first big shot. Hillary (Long) is the daughter of a prominent civil rights lawyer who struggles to find her own destiny. Their friendship—even with its ups and downs—sustains them for decades.
What does Bette think? She’s too busy preparing for the Broadway run of Hello, Dolly!, revival opening in March and long sold-out.
I may live in Churchill (PA), but I can’t bear the though of not visiting Churchill (Manitoba, Canada). Every fall, about 10,000 tourists from around the world descend on Manitoba, “The Polar Bear Capital of the World.” This community of about 800 people on Hudson Bay in Northern Canada is home to the annual migration of more than 1,000 hungry polar bears that pass through town as they wait for the bay ice to return.
Polar Bear Town (Public Media Distribution) documents a season in Churchill, following this extraordinary migration of human and four-legged animals as they collide in unexpected and sometimes dangerous ways. The Smithsonian Channel original series will be available on DVD on January 24.
The program takes viewers close to the enormous creatures known as the “Lords of the Artic.” These polar bears can grow to be 10 feet tall and more than 1,300 pounds. They are also skilled hunters that can detect the presence of seals beneath three feet of snow and ice and can pick out scents from nearly 20 miles away. Ouch!
Churchill is one of the few human settlements where polar bears can be observed in the wild and prime viewing happens in October and November. The program captures that moment when tourists from around the world fly into town in hopes of getting up close and personal with a polar bear. Professional guides Dennis Compayre and Kelsey Eliasson have a delicate mission: To get their clients close, but keep them safe.
A look at the segments on the two disc set:
Welcome to Churchill
The town prepares for the fall migration. As the season opens, tensions are higher than usual. Last Halloween, a surprise late-night encounter with a polar bear left a local woman seriously injured and the bear dead, the nightmare all in Churchill strive to avoid. Officer Bob Windsor of Manitoba’s Department of Natural Resources, who leads a team of conservation officers, is stepping up efforts to make the town safer, even if it means increasing challenges for guides like Dennis and Kelsey. Among the bears closing in on Churchill is a Polar mom with two cubs to protect and a 1,000 pound male known as Big Bear. Churchill resident Brian Ladoon, who owns and operates the Miles 5 Dog Sanctuary, braces for bear interlopers who try to poach food from his pack of endangered Canadian Eskimo dogs.
A mother bear is leading her nine month-old cub back from his first hunting season on the ice. Now, they’ll face an even more daunting challenge: Throngs of tourists descending on Churchill, which could put the cub and themselves at risk. Veteran guide Compayre takes his apprentice, but an aggressive client might complicate her “baptism by bear.” And fellow guide Kelsey Eliasson flips the script and takes up a camera himself to assist in a groundbreaking research project that identifies bears through their unique whisker patterns.
Rumble on the Tundra
Polar bear season has reached its peak and Brian Ladoon is looking for help at his Mile 5 Dog Sanctuary. Brian can’t be in two places at once–feeding his Canadian Eskimo dogs and on the lookout for polar bears. Luckily, volunteer Russell Hausler has traveled from Australia to give Brian a hand. Meanwhile, bear guide Dennis Compayre and regular client, California photographer Andrew Bazeley, are looking for the perfect shot to complete Andrew’s book. They encounter a pair of polar bears that locals call the Scrappy Brothers, because they wrestle each other to hone their skills for mating battles to come. And a cub called Curious ventures away from its mother and finds itself on a dangerous collision course with a hungry but elderly male known as St. Pete.
Halloween Horror Story
Halloween has arrived in Polar Bear Town. It’s the worst day of the year for bears in Churchill and the busiest for conservation officers. Children are trick-or-treating and people like Erin Greene are attending parties. Last year, Erin was on her way home from a party when she was attacked by a polar bear. Erin survived the attack but is afraid that it could happen again. Erin enlists her friend; bear guide Karine Genest, to confront her fears by getting close to a polar bear for the first time since the attack. While humans are understandably fearful, the bears are even more at risk. New Mom follows her nose into a bear trap and separates herself from her cub, whose very survival may depend on Kelsey’s intervention. And a roaming Big Bear is headed directly toward the army of guards protecting town.
Winter has settled in on Churchill. It’s the time of year when conservation officers release bears from its polar bear holding facility, which the locals call “Polar Bear Jail”. A special release sees a mother polar bear and her cub airlifted out of town, to be safely released in the wilderness. Kelsey has special access for the release and follows along in a chase helicopter. But the tranquilizers that conservation officers use on bears wear off quickly and the helicopter pilots need to find a place to land before the bears wake up. Meanwhile, Compayre enlists some friends to help him find a special bear called Dancer, who he’s known for over 20 years.
Quest for Cubs
It’s spring in Churchill. While most polar bears are now hunting for seals on the frozen Hudson Bay, pregnant females have migrated south to their ancestral dens to give birth. The race is on for guides, photographers and scientists to find hidden denning sites outside of Churchill, in hopes of seeing mothers and cubs emerge. Inside one of those dens, a mother bear has spent three full months nursing her cubs. At around 20 pounds each, they’re nearly ready to leave the den and embark on the epic trek to their icy hunting grounds. And a team of biologists, including Don Moore of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, make an astonishing discovery–a maternity denning complex that a group of polar bears has used for generations.
Before the Seinfeld sitcom success, it started with Johnny’s couch.
Revisit that time with The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: Johnny and Friends featuring Jerry Seinfeld. This DVDincludes three classic ’80s episodes, complete with commercials! Jerry Seinfeld is on Carson chum; other shows include Arnold Schwarzenegger, an 18-year-old named Andre Agassi and Oprah’s first Tonight Show appearance. Save the date: The recollections begin on January 10.
Featuring the best episodes from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, the Johnny and Friends series will include some of the best loved guests from The Tonight Show. Each DVD features full episodes-including original commercials-that showcase an amazing talent and true American icon who, across 30 years and 4,000 shows, paved the way for a late night TV revolution in memorable fashion.
The inaugural release stars Jerry Seinfeld before his eponymous sitcom rewrote TV history. After his first appearance (May 6, 1981), Carson was impressed and Seinfeld became a frequent guest on The Tonight Show. In 1989, Seinfeld debuted on NBC, and by its fourth season, it had become the most popular and successful sitcom on American television. This Johnny and Friends release features pre-Seinfeld episodes, allowing home audiences to watch the evolution of the iconic comedian.
Show 1 (June 27, 1985) A true classic is now released from The Tonight Show Vaults! Not only does this show feature an appearance by Jerry Seinfeld early in his career, but it also includes one of Johnny’s most famous sketches by The Mighty Carson Art Players: Mr. Rambo’s Neighborhood.
Show 2 (February 21, 1986) In this historic show from 1986, Seinfeld is joined by drag racer Shirley Muldowney, and that’s not all, watch as the future “Queen of all Media” meets the “King of Late Night” during the first appearance of Oprah Winfrey on The Tonight Show.
Show 3 (June 9, 1988) A star studded evening closes this DVD as Johnny’s guests include Seinfeld, Schwarzenegger and Agassi.
Carrie is dead. So is Debbie. The mother-daughter duo died just 24 hours apart. What better why for HBO to cash in than by airing the documentary Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds? It debuts Saturday, January 7 at 8 p.m. (ET/PT).
HBO calls Bright Lights “an intimate portrait of Hollywood royalty, in all its eccentricity.” Carrie and her mother, Debbi, lived in the same Beverly Hills compound. The 83-year-old grand dame still has a Las Vegas act, but performing was taking its toll.
Carrie’s response is both hilarious and heart-rending. “Mother and I live next door to each other, separated by one daunting hill,” Carrie explains. “I usually come to her. I always come to her.” Featuring vintage family films that bring iconic old-world Hollywood to life, as well as extensive vérité footage, the film has been directed by Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens.
Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds has already received audience and critical acclaim at many prestigious film festivals, including the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, the Telluride Film Festival and the New York Film Festival. The documentary holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes; The Hollywood Reporter called it “warmly engaging” and a “tender tribute to two iconic women”, and compared it favorably to the Maysles Bros classic 1975 mother-daughter portrait, Grey Gardens.
The film was reportedly Fisher’s idea, who wanted to document Reynolds’ final live performances in Las Vegas two years ago, aged 82.
HBO’s 2010 special Wishful Drinking will receive an encore presentation on January 1 at 9 (ET/PT). This feature-length adaptation of Fisher’s hit autobiographical stage production tells the intoxicating tale of her life, combining her raucous one-woman stage performance, interviews with family and friends, and archival footage.
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