Tag Archives: PBS Distribution

May we present a nifty selection of nifty “American Experience” PBS specials

Sealab
In the spring of 1964, explorers were preparing for a new mission, diving into the sea as one of the Navy’s newly-minted “aquanauts.” Aquanauts were divers who attempted to chart the ocean’s depths and faced barriers that had thwarted humans for centuries: near total blackness, bone-jarring cold, and intense pressure that could disorient the mind and crush the body. Aboard Sealab, explorers would attempt to break through those barriers—going deeper and staying underwater longer than anyone had done before.

An audacious feat of engineering—a pressurized underwater habitat, complete with science labs and living quarters—Sealab aimed to prove that humans were capable of spending days or even months living and working on the ocean floor. Sealab would pioneer what is known as “saturation diving,” which would allow divers to remain undersea—and emerge unscathed—for more extended periods of time.

After a tragic accident the Sealab program was subsequently suspended and completely shut down in 1970, however the lessons learned were used in numerous covert Naval operations for years to come.


Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. presents the definitive history of one of the least understood chapters in American history—the transformative years following the American Civil War, when the nation struggled to rebuild itself in the face of profound loss, massive destruction and revolutionary social change. The film takes a broad view of the Reconstruction era and its aftermath.

The first half of the documentary centers on the pivotal and hopeful decade following the Civil War rebellion, charting black progress and highlighting the accomplishments of the many political leaders who emerged to usher their communities into this new era of freedom. The series’ second half looks beyond that hopeful decade, when the arc of history bent backwards.

Tracing the unraveling of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow segregation in the closing years of the 19th century, the film looks at the myriad ways in which black people continued to acquire land, build institutions and strengthen communities amidst increasing racial violence and repression.

The film also explores the flowering of African American art, music, literature and culture as tools of resistance in the struggle against Jim Crow racism, and the surge of political activism that marked the launch of iconic civil rights organizations.


Charm City
An official selection at the Tribeca Film Festival, the Maryland Film Festival, the Nashville Film Festival and at AFI Docs, this feature documentary was filmed over a violent three-year period when Baltimore’s nickname, Charm City, never seemed less apt. The film profiles a group of police, citizens, community leaders and government officials who, with grit, fury and compassion, are grappling with the consequences of violence and trying to reclaim their city’s future.

On the streets of Baltimore, shooting is rampant, the murder rate is approaching an all-time high and distrust of the police is at a fever pitch. With nerves frayed and neighborhoods in distress, dedicated community leaders, compassionate law enforcement officers and a progressive young city councilman try to stem the epidemic of violence. Filmed during the lead up to, and aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death in police custody, Charm City is a powerful cinema vérité portrait of those surviving in, and fighting for, the vibrant city they call home.


Dictator’s Playbook examines the historical, sociological and psychological foundations of 20th century dictatorships, and provides fresh insight into six brutal men who impacted world history, how they functioned, how they influenced each other and why they succeeded or failed.

Six episodes focus on one dictator, including: Kim Il Sung, Saddam Hussein, Benito Mussolini, Manuel Noriega, Francisco Franco and Idi Amin.


Margaret: The Rebel Princess focuses on Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth’s beautiful and rebellious younger sister. This program features rare footage and interviews with those who knew her best and offers unparalleled insight into Margaret’s turbulent life and times. Her unique position as the Queen’s younger sister in a changing Britain left her free to experiment and push boundaries, yet she was forever judged by the public and press beginning to question the very idea of a monarchy.

While Margaret often followed the rigid rules under which she was raised, she also stepped outside those rules and into scandal.


Directed by Peabody-and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson, Boss: The Black Experiences in Business shines a light on the story of resilience and resistance within the black American experience in the face of racial hostility and violence, economic exclusion, segregation and discrimination. The new two-hour documentary traces the lives of African American entrepreneurs over 150 years, from those bound by bondage to moguls at the top of million-dollar empires.

Stories featured in the film include those of entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, publisher John H. Johnson, Motown CEO Berry Gordy and business pioneer and philanthropist Reginald F. Lewis, among many others.

This program brings viewers on a journey from the end of Reconstruction through the present, tracing the emergence of a stable black business community alongside the greater struggle for civil rights.


Homo Spatius
Can Homo sapiens evolve into Homo spatius?

For over 50 years now, we have been testing our human nature in our effort to conquer outer space, and still 30 years away from a possible human exploration of Mars, a question remains: Can our body take such travels? Will it ever adapt?

Accelerated aging, muscular atrophy, slowed-down brain functions, euphoric hallucinatory spells; as soon as we leave our usual environment towards extra-terrestrial horizons, we face conditions which our bodies are unfit for. However, the pull of exploration is stronger and space medicine is at work to prepare astronauts for travelling to new worlds , in a near or more distant future.

Combining human adventure and the exploration of the human body, this film offers unique insights into the physical and psychological effects of space travel on the astronauts and measures the impact on medical sciences.

PBS Distribution offers “American Experience: The Swam”

Man has been attempting to conquer the Florida Everglades since the 1800’s. The Swamp (PBS Distribution) explores natures’ most mysterious and unique ecosystems told through the eccentric lives of hucksters, politicians and activists.

The program is based, in part, on the book The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise by Michael Grunwald. The program introduces us to the first person who attempted to drain the Everglades in 1881, Philadelphia industrialist Hamilton Disston. He was one of the first to see the potential of turning the wetland into a profitable enterprise.

By the 1920’s, Florida experienced a population and real estate boom as new settlers cleared away native vegetation to plant crops like celery, lettuce, tomatoes and strawberries. But there were some, such as naturalist Charles Torrey Simpson, who warned against spoiling the area’s beauty and biodiversity. Torrey-Simpson was right. After altering the Everglades, the area was hit with unintended deadly consequences, from catastrophic floods to brutal droughts. Still, even as the alterations wreaked havoc on the environment, efforts continued to conquer the Everglades.

In 1925, landscape architect Ernest Coe moved to Miami and fell in love with the Everglades and became a champion to preserve it. He created a national park which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt approved by authorizing the creation of Everglades National Park in 1934. One of Coe’s supporters, writer Marjory Stoneman Douglas from the Miami Herald, wrote a book in 1946 that forever redefined the region as essential not only to wildlife but to people.

Two masterpieces from PBS: “Mrs. Wilson” and “Victoria, Season 3”

Mrs. Wilson
Ruth Wilson stars as her own grandmother in this true-life story of spies, plot-twists, love and betrayal, and a woman’s search for her husband’s real identity.

At the outset of World War II, Alison McKelvie (played by Ruth Wilson), took a secretarial job with the Secret Intelligence Service. There, she fell in love with an older man–Major Alexander Wilson (played by Iain Glen), a popular author of spy novels then doing real intelligence work for the war effort.

Fast-forwarding to 1963, Alison and Alec have been married for more than 20 years. While working on his new novel, Alec suffers a fatal heart attack. Prior to the funeral, Alison is confronted by a woman claiming to be Alec’s real wife. Alec’s colleagues offer condolences but refer to puzzling aspects of his work and personal life.

Nervously, Alison tracks down Coleman, Alec’s old spymaster, and enters the looking-glass world of secret intelligence, where agents assume identities, pursue careers, fake romances, and undergo public humiliations. Given Alec’s gift for creating plots, how much of what he confided to Alison was true and how much did he make up?


Jenna Coleman returns as her fearless Majesty Queen Victoria in the long anticipated third season of Victoria. A a runaway hit during its first two seasons, season three continues the story of Victoria’s rule over the largest empire the world has ever known.

Victoria: Season 3 introduces fascinating new historical characters, including Laurence Fox as the vainglorious Lord Palmerston, who crosses swords with the queen over British foreign policy. Also vexing the queen this season is Kate Fleetwood as Victoria’s devoted but troubled half-sister, Princess Feodora, who seeks refuge at Buckingham Palace due to political unrest back home in Germany.

 

 

“Frontline: Documenting Hate”, an in-depth investigation into today’s white supremacy groups in the U.S. is mandatory viewing.

Love survives hate. It overcomes it.

PBS Distribution’s Frontline: Documenting Hate, an in-depth, two-part investigation into today’s white supremacy groups in the U.S. and the violent attacks that have taken place as a result, is mandatory viewing. Divided into two parts, Charlottesville and New American Nazis, the documentary focuses on how each has played a major role in reinforcing hate in America.

In Charlottesville, correspondent A.C. Thompson methodically tracks down some of those at the center of the infamous and deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia—revealing that one participant in the violence was an active-duty Marine, and the other worked for a major defense contractor and held a U.S. government security clearance. This part also shows just how ill-prepared law enforcement was to handle an influx of white supremacists from across the country, some of whom had been part of a series of earlier violent confrontations in California and descended on Charlottesville specifically to fight.

The second part of the program, New American Nazis, presents a new investigation into white supremacist groups in America—in particular, a neo-Nazi group, Atomwaffen Division, that has actively recruited inside the U.S. Military. This joint investigation documents the group’s terrorist objectives, examines how civilian and military authorities have responded, and shows how the group gained strength after the 2017 Charlottesville rally. In the wake of the 2018 deadly anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, this program documents the rise and force behind these white supremacy groups.

“Sammy Davis , Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” chronicles the career of the one-eyed wonder

Finally. PBS Distribution has released the new American Masters program, Sammy Davis , Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me,  the first major film documentary to examine the performer’s vast career and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th-century America. Sammy Davis, Jr. had the kind of career that was indisputably legendary, vast in scope and scale.

And yet, his life was complex, complicated and contradictory. Davis strove to achieve the American Dream in a time of racial prejudice and shifting political territory. He was a veteran of increasingly outdated show business traditions and worked tirelessly to stay relevant, even as he frequently found himself bracketed by the bigotry of white America and the distaste of black America. Davis was the most public black figure to embrace Judaism, thereby yoking his identity to that of another persecuted minority. In Duke Ellington’s words, he was “beyond category.”

Featuring interviews with such luminaries as Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Kim Novak, with never-before-seen photographs from Davis’ vast personal collection and footage of his electric performances, this film explores the life and art of a uniquely gifted entertainer whose trajectory highlighted the major flashpoints of American society from the Depression through the ’80s.

A quartet of important PBS programs, now on DVD

We are always writing about PBS’ specials and programs because they are, well, special programs.

A few choices:

NOVA: Pluto and Beyond
When the New Horizons spacecraft whizzed by Pluto in 2015, we Earthlings were dazzled by the breathtaking images it beamed home. They revealed a never-before-seen alien landscape – a world of mountains made of ice mixed with plains of frozen-solid methane and nitrogen. After more than two years of poring over the data, NASA has made remarkable new discoveries about everyone’s favorite dwarf planet.

But New Horizons didn’t stop there. On New Year’s Day 2019, the probe flew by an object known now as Ultima Thule, believed to be a primordial building block of the solar system. This is the most distant flyby in NASA’s history – 4 billion miles from Earth. If successful, it will shed light on one of the least understood regions of our solar system: the Kuiper Belt. NOVA was embedded with the New Horizons mission team as the team uncovered in real time the secrets of what lies beyond Pluto.


NATURE: Equus: The Story of the Horse
Ever since the beginning of time, humans and horses have had an extraordinary and unusual partnership. As a result, horses have helped shape the human world. In this program, viewers join anthropologist Dr. Niobe Thompson and equine experts on a two-part adventure around the world and throughout time to discover the origins of the horse and what makes us so perfect for each other. In part one, Origins, viewers experience a stunning 3D reconstruction as a realistic animation of the 45 million-year-old ancestor of the horse, the Dawn horse, rises from a fossil bed and begins a transformation into the magnificent animal we know today. Viewers discover why horses have almost 360-degree vision and gallop on a single toe.

In part two of the program, Chasing the Wind, viewers encounter extraordinary horse breeds old of the Siberian Arctic to the scorching heat of the Arabian Desert. Filmed over 18 months across three continents, the program not only explores the horse and its biology but how humans have partnered with the horse throughout the centuries, creating more than 400 breeds found all around the world.


USS INDIANAPOLIS: The Final Chapter
In the waning days of World War II, less than three weeks before the Japanese surrendered, the U.S. Navy experienced a catastrophic disaster. The USS Indianapolis, the pride and joy of the U.S. Navy, had just delivered the components of the atomic bomb destined for Hiroshima when she is sunk by a Japanese sub. 300 sailors go down with her, and the 900 survivors drift for four and a half days, battling the sun, thirst, sharks, and their own fear. Ultimately, only 316 of them are pulled from the sea alive.

The sinking of Indianapolis remains the U.S. Navy’s worst single loss of life at sea. The program flashes back and forth in time between the Indianapolis’ history and her ultimate fate, and 2017, when explorers finally found the ship’s remains 18,000 feet below the surface of the Philippine Sea. Viewers will hear first-hand accounts from survivors about those horrific days trying to survive and how they feel today, now that the USS Indianapolishas been found.


Victoria & Albert: The Wedding
This two-part British drama produced by BBC Studios for PBS and BBC gives an insider’s look into the elaborate planning that went into one of the most famous weddings of all time: the romantic 1840 union of Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert. Host and Royal historian Lucy Worsley, along with a team of experts, oversees the meticulous recreation of the most important and fascinating elements of the wedding celebration, from the food and the music to the tiered cake, exquisite white wedding dress, and more.

Scouring all available materials, including Victoria’s own diaries for details, the program reveals how the pomp and pageantry secured the nation’s unwavering attention as Victoria gained favor with her subjects and invented the modern ideal of marriage.

Put down the Kindle. Switch off Netflix. Here are four must-see PBS programs

We hear about important programs being released on DVD by PBS Distribution, and we must share the news.
Rise of the Rockets (NOVA)
An explosion of private companies is sparking the development of new technologies and lowering costs to bring space closer than ever. And at the same time, NASA is returning to crewed spaceflight with gusto, building a rocket more powerful even than the storied Saturn V to take us far beyond Earth.

Will today’s optimism prove prescient, or nothing more than hype and wishful thinking? As costs come down and rockets with new capabilities come online, a new generation is reaching for the cosmos, daring to dream big and yearning to go farther, in greater numbers than ever before.
Watch for it May 7.


In The Next Pompeii, NOVA joins investigators as they hunt for clues hidden beneath the surface of Italy’s lesser-known volcano Campi Flegrei, and assesses the risk of a new and potentially devastating eruption. The program also follows historians and geologists as they discover the latest evidence of Pompeii’s fiery destruction, unpacking the chain of events that led to the ancient world’s most notorious disaster.

What lessons does the tragedy of Pompeii hold for Naples’ citizens, who may face a mounting threat from the unseen forces beneath their feet?
Watch for it May 14.


The Roman emperor Nero is considered one of history’s greatest criminals, a cruel, insane and brutal ruler. His name has become synonymous with evil, and he stands accused of killing his step-brother, his wife, and his mother, as well as burning Rome to the ground for his own artistic inspiration. But are these stories true? Can they be proven?

Recent research, modern interpretations of historical sources, and new discoveries cast a different light on the accusations levelled at the Roman emperor. The Nero Files investigates Nero’s reign with the help of criminal psychologist Thomas Müller, using “cold case” methodology. Did history get it wrong? Was Nero a far better ruler than he’s ever been given credit for?
Watch for it May 14.


In the aftermath of the brutal wars that decimated Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s, former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic was accused of genocide and other war crimes—including the massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica in July 1995—considered the worst crime perpetrated on European soil since World War II.
The Trial of Ratko Mladic (Frontline) chronicles the horror.
After 16 years on the run, Mladic was apprehended and brought to The Hague to stand trial before the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal, the biggest and only truly international war crimes tribunal since Nuremburg.

In the two-hour special Frontline goes inside the historic five-year trial, with unprecedented, behind-the-scenes access to the prosecution and defense teams, as well as to witnesses from both sides who came to present evidence.
The Trial of Ratko Mladic provides haunting insights into a war criminal’s motives, and the genocide he commanded his troops to carry out—as well as an intimate look at the victims left behind, who remain haunted by what their families endured. It tells an epic story of justice, accountability and a country trying to escape its bloody past.
Watch for it May 28.


PBS’ two blockbuster releases: “Unforgotten, Season 3” and a new take on “Les Misérables”

PBS Distribution welcomes May with two knock-out DVDs. May we introduce them?


When human remains are found by a motorway near London, the crime-solving duo, Cassie and Sunny are called to the scene. Dogged work leads the team to Hayley Reid, a 16-year-old girl who went missing on the eve of the millennium. The police’s failure to find out what happened to Hayley wrecked her family’s life. Cassie’s compassion makes her determined to correct the mistakes made by the original investigating team—whatever the cost is to herself.
Welcome Unforgotten, Season 3.
A close-knit group of old school friends hold the key to what happened: Doctor Tim Finch, television host James Hollis, failing salesman Pete Carr and artist Chris Lowe.

As the four suspects find themselves under the spotlight, their tight bond is put to the test. They all have secrets in their past, events that have pulled their lives apart. None of them are quite who they seem to be, but is one of them capable of murder?
Watch for it May 7.


A blockbuster novel for over 150 years comes vividly to life in award-winning screenwriter Andrew Davies’ multi-layered retelling of Victor Hugos’ Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. This enthralling six-episode adaptation stars Dominic West as Jean Valjean, the most famous fugitive in literature; David Oyelowo stars as his relentless pursuer, Javert; and Lily Collins as the tragic seamstress, Fantine; Ellie Bamber plays her adolescent daughter, Cosette; Olivia Colman and Adeel Akhtar are Cosette’s cruel overseers, the Thénardiers; and Josh O’Connor  is the student and reluctant revolutionary Marius, who falls in love with Cosette at first sight.

Joining the extensive cast are David Bradley as Marius’s formidable grandfather, Monsieur Gillenormand; and Derek Jacobi as the kindly Bishop of Digne, who rescues Valjean at his lowest ebb. London’s The Guardian calls this Les Misérables “a rich feast…c’est magnifique!”
Watch for it May 21.

A Trio of Must-See NOVA Programs, Now on DVD

Three new Nova programs, now on DVD, from PBS Distribution, all must-see viewing.

Nova: Thai Cave Rescue
In this program viewers will follow the dramatic rescue of the 12 boys and their soccer coach from the Tham Luang Cave in Thailand, where they had been trapped for 18 days. This program  features interviews with key people that were involved in the search and rescue and explains how the team became trapped in the cave.

After multiple failed attempts to find the boys and their coach, an international team of rescuers was called upon to find them and ultimately bring them to safety. Nova: Thai Cave Rescue is a stunning example of innovation, teamwork and human endurance in one of the most hostile environments on earth–a flooded cave.

Nova: Last B-24
Seventy-four years ago, an American B-24 Liberator bomber known as the Tulsamerican fell from the sky and disappeared beneath the waves of the Adriatic Sea. Seven crew members survived the crash and were rescued, three men were never found.

Seven decades later, the bomber was discovered by amateur divers, nearly 135 feet beneath the water’s surface at the bottom of the Adriatic Sea. A specialized group within the Pentagon, The U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) was alerted and quickly formed a specialized expedition team. Viewers join the Croatian Navy and some of the world’s leading underwater archaeologists as they investigate the wreckage and try to find remains of the lost crew members. Later the team of archaeologists joins a team of forensics experts as they work to identify the remains that are recovered from the wreck.

Nova: Operation Bridge Rescue
The Blenheim Covered Bridge in New York State is an icon of 19th century American engineering. Built in 1855, it was the longest single span covered bridge in the world, but in 2011 the bridge was destroyed by Hurricane Irene. The program follows a team of elite bridge builders and engineers as they faithfully reproduce the intricate timber structure under immense pressure—spring floods are coming and threaten to destroy the worksite.

Viewers then travel to China to witness traditional craftsmen restoring thousand-year-old covered bridges, all based on their ingenious frameworks of woven timber beams. These ancient bridges are the heart of their communities and allow for trade and worship in other villages, but typhoons are destroying these bridges as well. Viewers discover how Chinese artisans are keeping traditional skills alive to ensure the bridges survival.

PBS Distribution new DVD, “Nature: Super Cats”, is the cat’s meow!

Everyone is intrigued by big cats, but how much do we really know about them? In Nature: Super Cats (PBS Distribution), viewers get a never before seen glimpse into the lives of these wild creatures. Presented in three parts, this series uncovers the secret lives of wild cats with groundbreaking technology, never used before to film our feline friends.

Filmed over a span of 600 days in 14 different countries, this program features 31 cat species, including the Iberian Lynx, the Margay from Central and South America, and the deadliest cat of them all, Africa’s Black-Footed Cat.

Super Cats also reveals the social sides…their complex communication, devoted parental care, courtship rituals, hunting patterns and more. Remote cameras and low-light technology help capture rare moments in the lives of wildcats including a swamp tiger taking a bath in the sea, never before revealed on screen.

The three episodes included in the program are: Extreme Lives, where we meet the planet’s ultimate cats, including the Cheetah, the Snow Leopard, the Canada Lynx, and the African Leopard.  Using the latest scientific research, we are exposed to the inner life of these cats like never before. In episode two, Cats in Every Corner, we discover how cats thrive in almost every landscape on earth from the wetlands of Asia to the world’s oldest desert in Africa to the forest of Central America and in the secluded beaches of California. Episode three, Science and Secretsreveals how new approaches and technologies are helping to uncover some of cats most intimate secrets including the cheetah’s remarkable gymnastic abilities and why lions are able to hunt so cooperatively.

Narrated by Oscar winning actor F. Murray Abraham, (“Amadeus”) “NATURE: SUPER CATS” unveils the various lives these creatures lead from the solitary bachelor snow leopard in the Himalayas to the elusive swamp tiger of South Asia. It follows exquisite predators such as one exceptional Californian bobcat, blind in one eye yet able to capture airborne prey.