We are always gushing over programs, documentaries, shows, specials, films and mini-series that are released on Blu-ray and DVD by PBS Distribution. And with good reason. They are always riveting. Here are two that could easily fall through the cracks. Take note!
Through the eyes of servicemen and women, GI Jews: Jewish Americans in WWII brings to life the little-known story of Jews in World War II—as active participants in the fight against Hitler, bigotry and intolerance. These men and women were religious and secular, Zionists, socialists, even pacifists. Some had been in America for generations; others were recent immigrants, with close family members left behind in Hitler’s Europe. Their extraordinary experiences are at the heart of the film, telling the story of World War II from a uniquely Jewish perspective.
Like all Americans, they fought against fascism, but they also fought a more personal fight– to save their brethren in Europe. In the midst of it all, they battled anti-Semitism within the ranks of the U.S. military, facing slurs and violence from their fellow servicemen. In the end, the story of the Jewish GIs is the story of becoming American; the story of immigrants who earned their citizenship by shedding blood and fought for democracy and tolerance abroad and at home.
Meet the men and women who make their living cleaning our shoes. From the brash street shiners of New York City, to the masked shoe shine boys of La Paz, this program takes viewers around the world to give viewers an insider’s perspective of this overlooked profession. The Art of the Shine introduces the people who do this job and the chance to see the world through their eyes.
Viewers discover that despite being literally and figuratively “looked down upon” by society, shoe shiners universally take great pride in their work. They like the freedom that comes with being their own bosses and enjoy interacting with customers who always walk away happy. People around the world have turned to shoe shining to provide for themselves and their families. These are their stories. Step into their world. You’ll never look at a shoe shiner the same way again.
The plot opens on the Italian front near the end of World War II. British Captain Michael Berryman saves the life of a wounded fellow officer and recognizes him as Thomas March, an old schoolmate, now serving as an official war artist. Though engaged to his childhood sweetheart, Flora, Michael feels a powerful attraction to Thomas, who feels the same way. After the artist’s recuperation, the two share a brief, passionate encounter before parting.
With the war over, Michael looks up Thomas in London, and they spend a liberating, amorous weekend at Michael’s rundown country cottage. There, Thomas sketches Michael for a painting that will become “Man in an Orange Shirt.” In an era when homosexuality in England was punished by prison, there is no hope of living together. Furthermore, Michael feels honor-bound to marry Flora, and he asks Thomas to be his best man. This sets the stage for a turbulent marriage, not least because Flora suspects nothing about her fiancé’s sexual preference.
The second half of the drama skips two generations to the present day. Michael and Thomas have died, and Flora keeps house with her grandson, Adam, a young veterinarian active in London’s gay hookup scene—a subject Flora carefully avoids.
Into Adam’s restless life comes Steve, an architect eager for a stable relationship and intrigued by the challenge of fixing up the cottage that Adam has been given by Flora—the same place where Michael and Thomas spent their idyllic weekend six decades earlier. The times change, the laws change, the technology changes (as illustrated by Adam’s addiction to dating apps), but the problem of love, commitment, and acceptance is as persistent and formidable as ever.
It’s not just Adam and Steve who face this dilemma. Flora, too, has unfinished business with the past.
Such is the wonder of MASTERPIECE: Man in an Orange Shirt (PBS Distribution), a critically-acclaimed film that portrays a pair of love stories, 60 years apart, linked by family ties, sexual identity, and a mysterious painting. It will be available on DVD and Blu-ray June 19; The program will also be available for digital download.
Scripted by bestselling novelist Patrick Gale, the film was a two-part original drama which formed part of the BBC’s Gay Britannia season. Man in the Orange Shirt was broadcast to wide critical acclaim in the UK in 2017 for the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality.
Playing the star-crossed lovers are Oliver Jackson-Cohen, James McArdle, Julian Morris and David Gyasi. Joining Vanessa Redgrave are Joanna Vanderham, Laura Carmichael, Julian Sands, Frances de la Tour, Adrian Schiller and Joanna David.
Fly high this summer withNature: Sex, Lies & Butterflies, now on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD from PBS Distribution. Butterflies have been flying around our planet for more than 50 million years, and today around 20,000 different species inhabit the globe. This program, narrated by Paul Giamatti, follows their lives from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to the emergence of the full-blown, winged creature.
Explore their astonishing survival techniques, including 360° vision, deceptive camouflage, chemical weaponry and fantastic flight. Through sophisticated macro-filming, look beyond the butterflies’ bright colors and fragile beauty to follow them on one of the greatest migrations on Earth.
June will be bustin’ out all over, and when it does, get ready for some exciting new DVD releases from PBS Distribution. Let us share some of the news . . .
Nature: Natural Born Rebels (available June 5) From a promiscuous prairie dog to a kleptomaniac crab and an alpha chimpanzee who reigns with an iron fist, this three-part series introduces the most rebellious animals in the natural world. But are these creatures really breaking bad?
Across the world, new studies are uncovering an astonishing variety of rebellious animal behaviors, and despite how it appears on the surface, researchers are discovering the complex and fascinating science behind why these animals behave the way they do. In fact, being a rebel could be the key to success in the wild.
Secrets of the Dead: Hannibal in the Alps (available June 5) Hannibal, one of history’s most famous generals, achieved what the Romans thought to be impossible. With a vast army of 30,000 troops, 15,000 horses and 37 war elephants, he crossed the mighty Alps in only 16 days to launch an attack on Rome from the north.
For more than 2,000 years, nobody has been able to prove which of the four possible routes Hannibal took across the Alps, and no physical evidence of Hannibal’s army has ever been found until now. In this program, viewers will follow a team of experts–explorers, archaeologists and scientists–combine state-of-the-art technology, ancient texts, and a recreation of the route itself to prove conclusively where Hannibal’s army made it across the Alps – and exactly how he did it.
Chinese Exclusion Act (available June 5) On May 6th, 1882, on the eve of the greatest wave of immigration in American history, President Chester A. Arthur signed into law a unique piece of federal legislation. Called the Chinese Exclusion Act, it singled out as never before a specific race and nationality for exclusion–making it illegal for Chinese workers to come to America–and for Chinese nationals already here to become citizens of the United States.
A deeply American story, this program examines the economic, cultural, social, legal, racial and political dimensions of the law; the forces and events that gave rise to it; and the effect it had, and continues to have, on American culture and identity.
The Jazz Ambassadors(available June 19)
The Cold War and Civil Rights movement collide in this remarkable story of music, diplomacy, and race. In 1955, as the Soviet Union’s pervasive propaganda about the U.S. and American racism spread globally, African-American Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., convinced President Eisenhower that jazz was the best way to intervene in the Cold War cultural conflict. For the next decade, America’s most influential jazz artists, including Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Dave Brubeck, along with their racially-integrated bands, traveled the globe to perform as cultural ambassadors.
But the unrest back home forced them to face a painful moral dilemma: how could they promote the image of a tolerant America abroad when the country still practiced Jim Crow segregation and racial equality remained an unrealized dream? Told through striking archival film footage, photos, and radio clips, with iconic performances throughout, this program reveals how the U.S. State Department unwittingly gave the burgeoning Civil Rights movement a major voice on the world stage just when it needed one most.
Nova: Decoding the Weather Machine (available June 26) Disastrous hurricanes. Widespread droughts and wildfires. Pervasive heat. Extreme rainfall. It’s not hard to conclude that something’s up with the weather – and many scientists agree this trend in the weather is not just a coincidence. It’s the result of the weather machine itself–the earth’s climate changing, becoming hotter and more erratic. Climate change is arguably the defining challenge of this century, yet widespread misunderstanding and misinformation has hampered the public’s ability to understand the science and address the issue. In this program, viewers will cut through the confusion and help define the way forward.
Why do scientists overwhelmingly agree that the climate is changing, and that human activity is causing it? How will it affect the world through the weather we experience, and when? And what will it take to bend the trajectory of planetary warming toward more benign outcomes? Join scientists around the globe on a quest to better understand the workings of the weather and climate machine we call Earth and discover how they are finding that we can be resilient – even thrive – in the face of enormous change.
Going to War War is the ultimate paradox. Filled with terror, pain, and grief, it brings exhilaration, and a profound sense of purpose. This program provides an insight that helps viewers make sense of this paradox and get to the heart of what it’s like to be a soldier in times of war. The film illuminates the experiences of training, battle, and coming home for soldiers across conflicts, revealing the universals of the warrior’s journey.
Leading the exploration are Sebastian Junger, bestselling author and director of the Academy Award-nominated film Restrepo, and Karl Marlantes, decorated Marine officer and author of the bestselling novel Matterhorn and the fearless memoir What It is Like to Go to War. Both men bring firsthand experience, hard-won wisdom, and an abiding commitment to telling the warrior’s story with insight and unflinching candor.
Oh say can you see . . .
Wait until June 12 and you will be able to see two great Smithsonian Channel programs being released on DVD by PBS Distribution.
A Star-Spangled Story: Battle for America The Star-Spangled Banner is known by all, treasured for its powerful melody and stirring lyrics. And yet, only about 40% of U.S. citizens know all the words. And even fewer know their meaning. In this program, viewers can travel back to 1814, when Washington D.C. was under British attack during the “Second War of Independence,” and the very bricks and mortar of American democracy were reduced to smoking rubble.
The program examines the battle that inspired Francis Scott Key to immortalize its final moments, then reveal how his poem transformed into an anthem.
They are studied in school and visited by millions. They are world-renowned symbols of the nation. But they are also shrouded in misinformation, mystery, and mythology. How much does America really know about its greatest monuments?
From war memorials, to monuments honoring America’s founding fathers, to Arlington’s eternal flame, these soaring tributes in stone, steel, soil, and sky have amazing stories to tell. They are a permanent record of this nation’s history and evolution into the world’s greatest democracy . . . a country of the people.
The inevitability of war. A need for religion. The lure of the city.
A love of trade. Discover how our ancestors were motivated by the same impulses that persist today to create the first civilizations and empires.
Witness the facts in First Civilizations, available on DVD June 12 by PBS Distribution.
How did humans advance on the road to civilization despite having lived as mobile foragers for 99 percent of their time on Earth? How did they create villages, towns, cities and states and establish the blueprint for the modern world?
This series identifies four cornerstones of civilization–war, religion, cities and trade–and explores each in the context of different civilizations in Mesoamerica, the Middle East and the Indus Valley. Crisscrossing the globe, camera crews traveled to Mexico, Guatemala, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Oman, Morocco, France, Germany, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. They recorded the latest archaeological discoveries, tested new theories and uncovered original information.
Dramatic reconstructions and computer graphics are used to visualize the lost world of the first civilizations. In each episode, the ancient story is also complemented by a modern-day analog, with an expert interviewee connecting the dots between past and present. Their story is our story.
Bill Nye is on a mission to stop the spread of anti-scientific thought and action. Once the host of a popular kids’ show and now the CEO of the Planetary Society, he’s leading a mission to launch LightSail, a satellite propelled by sunlight, while in turn fulfilling the legacy of his late professor and Planetary Society co-founder Carl Sagan.
With intimate and exclusive access, as well as plenty of wonder and whimsy, POV: Bill Nye: Science Guy (PBS Distribution) is a behind-the-scenes portrait of the “Science Guy,” who continues to inspire millennials to participate in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). In addition to Nye, the film features Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ann Druyan and many other notable voices in the field.
In addition to taking off his signature “Science Guy” lab coat, Nye has started taking on those who deny the importance of science, from prominent creationist Ken Ham to climate change skeptic, meteorologist and occasional Fox News commentator Joe Bastardi. Nye goes head-to-head to advocate for the scientific community and its invaluable findings.
And Nye acknowledges that he’s ready for a new challenge. “The Science Guy show is over, and I’ve got to move on to something bigger,” he says. “We have this increasing anti-science movement in the United States. It’s worse than ever. The anti-science movement is more powerful than it’s ever been.”
Accordingly, in his role as CEO of the Planetary Society, Nye and his team are working toward the first-ever successful launch and flight of a solar sailing satellite propelled by sunlight in space. “When I was in class 40 years ago, Carl Sagan talked about a solar sail mission, but it never happened. So, this is realizing a 40-year-old dream of building a spacecraft that could fly in space propelled just by light. So, Professor Sagan, this one’s for you,” Nye says as the satellite is being tested for the first time.
But Nye’s focus never strays far from what initially propelled him to fame: education. “If we raise a generation of kids that can’t think critically, can’t think scientifically, we are headed for trouble,” he warns. “As a science educator, I am really more serious about it than ever. These people who are denying science, denying evolution, denying the efficacy of vaccinations and especially denying human-caused climate change—we just can’t have this. We’ve got to fight this fight. I’ve got to fight this fight.”
Nye’s mission is driven in part by anxiety about what future generations may face. Sitting on climate change denier Joe Bastardi’s porch, Nye implores, “What if you’re wrong? What about Garrett?” Garrett is Bastardi’s college-age son, who is following in his father’s footsteps by studying meteorology and also shares his father’s skepticism about climate change.
Another flashpoint in the film comes when Nye is touring the Creation Museum founded by Christian fundamentalist Ken Ham. The museum features displays suggesting that humans lived alongside dinosaurs and that the earth is 6,000 years old. Nye finds it alarming. He points out, “Humans and ancient dinosaurs did not live at the same time. The evidence for that is overwhelming, and to suggest this to school-children is irresponsible at best. It’s reprehensible at worst.”
Nonetheless, Nye is not without his own critics. Even some in the scientific community feel there have been times when Nye’s mission has taken a back seat to his ego. Some say that by agreeing to a televised debate with Ham about our evolutionary origins, Nye gave Ham undeserved media attention. “Nye’s mistake was giving credibility to Ken Ham by giving him a public platform. Everything I’ve seen about Nye is that he really misses being the Science Guy because he was much beloved and very popular. It’s hard to give up celebrity,” says evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne.
The programalso illuminates Nye’s private life. He remains close to his two siblings, who are struggling with a hereditary neurological disorder that Nye doesn’t have. Numerous friends, both from his childhood and from his Science Guydays, speak to his quirks and ambitions. Nye even opens up about his romantic life.
Ultimately, the Science Guy and Nye are indistinguishable from each other. “Bill has always wanted to be famous,” one of his longtime friends says. Expertly chronicling the TV character and the very real human subject behind him, Bill Nye: Science Guy presents an absorbing, charming portrait of a man and his not-so-modest mission to educate and change the world.
At the very northern edge of North America is Ellesmere Island, where the unforgiving Arctic winds tear through the tundra, dipping temperatures to 40 below zero. Running through this shifting sea of snow and ice is one of the most hardened predators on the planet, the White Wolf.
But as the spring melt approaches, these roaming hunters must adapt to being tethered parents as new additions to the pack have just been born. With their herds of prey continuing to move, viewers witness a desperate race to keep up and bring back a kill to the hungry mothers and cubs. Traveling farther and farther away from their den each day puts these hunters and their children at risk in this fight for survival.
This captivating experience has been caught on NATURE: Arctic Wolf Pack (PBS Distribution).This documentary is narrated by Campbell Scott.
People worldwide have seen the Disney animated classic Bambi and have been deeply moved by it, but few can tell you the name of the artist behind the film. Even fewer are aware of this pioneering artist’s impact on American art and popular culture. Until his death at the age of 106, Tyrus Wong was America’s oldest living Chinese American artist and one of the last remaining artists from the golden age of Disney animation. The quiet beauty of his Eastern-influenced paintings caught the eye of Walt Disney, who made Wong the inspirational sketch artist for Bambi. Filmmaker Pamela Tom corrects a historical wrong by spotlighting this seminal, but heretofore under-credited, figure.
Learn the truth, witness his genius, in American Masters: Tyrus (PBS Distribution).
Born in Canton (now Guangzhou), China, right before the fall of the Chinese Empire, Wong and his father immigrated to America in 1919, never to see their family again. The film shows how he overcame a life of poverty and racism to become a celebrated painter who once exhibited with Picasso and Matisse, a Hollywood sketch artist and Disney Legend.
Previously unseen art and interviews with Wong, movie clips and archival footage illustrate how his unique style–melding Chinese calligraphic and landscape influences with contemporary Western art–is found in everything from Disney animation (Bambi) and live-action Hollywood studio films (Rebel Without a Cause, The Wild Bunch, Sands of Iwo Jima, April in Paris) to Hallmark Christmas cards, kites and hand-painted California dinnerware to fine art and Depression-era WPA paintings. The film also features new interviews with his daughters and fellow artists/designers, including his Disney co-worker and friend Milton Quon and curators and historians of Wong’s work.
Over one-and-a-half million refugees and migrants have smuggled themselves to the West since 2015, fleeing countries besieged by violence and poverty in search of safety and a better life. But the countries these refugees dreamed of reaching have changed.
FRONTLINE: Exodus: The Journey Continues is a stunning sequel to the 2016 documentary FRONTLINE: Exodus and tells the intimate, firsthand stories of refugees and migrants caught in Europe’s tightened borders, facing heightened nationalism and rising anti-immigrant sentiment. As this global migration and refugee crisis continues, with countries becoming less and less welcoming to those seeking refuge, this documentary is an eye-opening look at the evolving crisis that draws on footage filmed by the refugees themselves.
The program will be available on DVD April 17. The program is also available for digital download.
Petrucelli Picks the best in books, music and film . . . and then some