Tag Archives: PBS Distribution

Two new DVD frame the lives of John James Audubon and Alice Waters

We turn the spotlight onto two must-have documentaries on DVD: Public Media Distribution’s Audubon (available June 20) and PBS Distribution’s American Masters: Alice Waters and Her Delicious Revolution (now available).

John James Audubon was one of the most remarkable men of early America. A contemporary of Lewis and Clark and Davy Crockett, he explored the American frontier in search of “the feathered tribes” he loved and studied. A self-taught artist and ornithologist, he left a legacy of art and science that made him famous in his lifetime and endures to this day. His portrait hangs in the White House, his statue stands over the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History, and his name was adopted by the nation’s first conservation organization.

The program, filmed in locations where Audubon painted, brings to life his timeless paintings with dazzling footage of the living birds he immortalized—and celebrates visually the natural world he described in his writings. Interviews reveal the man, explore his art, and put his groundbreaking work in modern perspective.

Alice Waters and her now-famous restaurant Chez Panisse became a major force behind the way Americans eat and think about food, launching the explosion of local farmers’ markets and redesigned supermarket produce departments.

Distressed by the food she saw in public schools, Waters started an organic garden with an integrated curriculum at the Martin Luther King Middle School near her house, an idea inspired by The Garden Project at the San Francisco county jail. The idea of an Edible Schoolyard has now spread across the U.S.–and inspired similar programs worldwide. She is an activist with a flawless palette who has taken her gift for food and turned it into consciousness about the environment and nutrition, and a device for social change.

“Nova: Building Chernobyl’s MegaTomb” proves another disaster looms

Ever wonder why Nova, now in its 44nd season, is the most-watched primetime science series on American television, reaching an average of five million viewers weekly? The series remains committed to producing in-depth science programming in the form of hour-long (and occasionally longer) documentaries. Witness another wonder: Nova: Building Chernobyl’s MegaTomb (PBS Distribution).

In 1986, in the heart of the Ukraine, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded, releasing 400 times more radiation than the Hiroshima Bomb. It was the world’s worst nuclear disaster.  Thirty workers died. 50,000 people fled the nearest city. And radioactive fallout made an area larger than Long Island a no-go zone. Hastily, a so-called “sarcophagus” was built to contain the radioactive materials that lingered at the site after the explosion. But 30 years later, the sarcophagus is crumbling, and another disaster at Chernobyl looms.

Now, an international team of engineers is racing the clock to assemble one of the most ambitious superstructures ever built … an extraordinary 40,000 ton, 1.5 billion dollar mega dome to entomb the crumbling remains of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Battling arctic winter weather–and lethal radiation–this DVD features the inside story of the epic race to build Chernobyl’s MegaTomb.

PBS takes a dramatic, often depression peek in “Victorian Slum House”

What would it be like . . .

In the landmark living history series, a Victorian tenement in the heart of London’s East End has been painstakingly brought back to life. Host Michael Mosley joins a group of 21st-century families as they move in and experience the tough living and working conditions of the Victorian poor.

The experience: Victorian Slum House.

Progressing decade by decade, the Slum residents begin life in tough conditions of the 1860s, when London, capital of the world’s first industrial superpower, and the richest city on Earth, was also home to the nation’s most desperately poor. Most managed to get by but putting food on the table and paying the rent involves long hours of hard labor.

As the slum dwellers move into the 1870s and the 1880s, they are faced with a dire economic depression and increasing competition for jobs; and revolution is in the air. Things get better for some in the 1890s, as Victorian Britain’s economy picks up but it’s during the early 1900s that progressive social change starts to make a real difference. Through their incredible journey they discover the extraordinary story of how the Victorian East End changed Britain’s attitude to poverty forever.

 

PBS Distribution’s “Nova: Holocaust Escape Tunnel” is a powerful history lesson

Once again, PBS Distribution has released a documentary that demands viewing . . . and a place in your library. Make note, please: Nova: Holocaust Escape Tunnel, available now on DVD and also available for digital download.

For centuries, the Lithuanian city of Vilna was one of the most important Jewish centers in the world, earning the title “Jerusalem of the North,” until the Nazis destroyed it. About 95% of its Jewish population of Vilna, its name in Hebrew and Yiddish, was murdered and its synagogues and institutions were reduced to ruins. The Soviets finished the job, paving over the remnants of Vilna’s famous Great Synagogue, for example, so thoroughly that few today know it ever existed. Now, an international team of archaeologists are trying to recover this lost world. They will excavate the remains of its Great Synagogue and uncover one of Vilna’s greatest secrets: a lost escape tunnel dug by Jewish prisoners inside a horrific Nazi execution site.

Chances are you will love the bittersweet “My Mother and Other Strangers”

Chances are . . .

Hattie Morahan and Aaron Staton star as a village teacher and U.S. air force officer whose chance meeting in Northern Ireland during World War II leads to a friendship that blossoms into something deeper.

Welcome to Masterpiece: My Mother and Other Strangers (PBS Distribution), coming to DVD on July 11. Also starring is Owen McDonnell as the teacher’s dour but loving husband, along with Eileen O’Higgins, Michael Nevin, Des McAleer, Kate Phillips, Fiona Button and Ciarán Hinds.

During its recent UK broadcast, viewers and critics were deeply moved by this bittersweet tale. “No other recent drama has captured quite so keenly a sense of the complex, hidden, unspoken desires that can roil away beneath even the quietest surface,” wrote the reviewer for The Telegraph, who added, “Hattie Morahan is superb.”

Shot on the stunningly beautiful Ards Peninsula in Northern Ireland, the film portrays the culture clash when a U.S. bomber base is established near the fictional village of Moybeg in 1943, bringing hundreds of gum-chewing, swing-band-listening American airmen to a remote Ulster farming community, with its winsome women and stolid workingmen.

The action is framed from the point of view of a young boy, Francis Coyne (played by Nevin, with voiceover of Francis as an older man by Hinds). Francis’s childhood is populated by strangers. On the one hand, there are the friendly Americans in their Jeeps and airplanes, who treat him like a little brother. Then there is his mother, Rose (Morahan), an upright Englishwoman who married Michael Coyne (McDonnell) and moved to his hometown, Moybeg, where she is raising their three children, teaching in the village school, and tending a grocery shop next to Michael’s pub. Despite being a pillar of the community, Rose has never fit in. She speaks more properly than the locals, loves English literature, and has a lively interest in the wider world.

Into this isolated domain comes Captain Ronald Dreyfus (Staton), U.S. Army Air Forces, who encounters Rose during a walk on the heath. When they meet again, he quotes her a line from Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott”—one of her favorite poems.

Captain Dreyfus is as reserved as Rose is. But in his capacity as base liaison officer, he has occasion to see her frequently: dealing with a fracas between airmen and regulars at the pub, arranging for an army nurse (Phillips) to care for a sick child, and planning a Christmas party for the school.

Both would-be lovers fight against the stronger feelings that are overwhelming them—emotions that are increasingly evident to those around them.

Wary of betraying her husband, Rose feels seized by some otherworldly force, a sentiment she can only recognize from a piece of literature—Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights—which she quotes from memory: “Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!”

 

PBS serves up two fascinating documentaries on DVD, just in time for the July holiday

Food, glorious, food. What better way to celebrate incredible edibles than on July 4, the holiday that offers the independence to choose among so much delish dishes? PBS Distrubtion comes into action with the DVD being released that day.

“What fish should I eat that’s good for me and good for the planet?” That’s the question bestselling author and lifelong fisherman Paul Greenberg sets out to answer. As part of his quest to investigate the health of the ocean—and his own—Greenberg spends a year eating seafood for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a journey that’s brought to life in Frontline: The Fish on My Plate produced by Neil Docherty, David Fanning and Sarah Spinks. The documentary will be available on DVD July 4; the program will also be available for digital download.

The program chronicles Greenberg as he works on his upcoming book, The Omega Principle—and consumes more than 700 fish meals in hopes of improving his health through a dramatic increase in his Omega-3 levels.

With people worldwide consuming more seafood than ever, Greenberg also explores questions of sustainability and overfishing, traveling to Norway, where modern fish farming was invented; Peru to witness the world’s largest wild fishery; Alaska, where 200 million salmon can be caught each year; and Connecticut to visit a sustainable ocean farming pioneer who is trying to transform the fishing industry.

On the wild side, Greenberg finds that not everything is as it seems: At America’s largest seafood trade show, American wild salmon is labeled as a product of China. Why? Alaskan salmon is shipped frozen to China, thawed there to be deboned and filleted, and then refrozen to be shipped back to American supermarkets.

When it comes to farmed fish, things aren’t much more clear-cut: In Norway, the world center for farming America’s favorite fish, the Atlantic salmon, Greenberg finds a “salmon war.” The country’s fjords are festooned with farms, profits are huge, and growth expectations are high—but there is fierce criticism from environmentalists who complain the farms create more sewage than the entire human population of the country, that they spread disease, and that escaped farmed salmon are polluting the genetics of dwindling wild stocks.

Plus, a parasite, the sea louse—which feeds off the blood of the salmon—multiplies exponentially in the farms, and then infects entire fjords. This has led the government to halt the industry’s growth until the louse can be restrained.

In the program, Greenberg charts the industry’s efforts to accommodate its critics and search for solutions—visiting a “green” fish farm just south of the Arctic Circle, and discussing proposals for a genetically modified salmon that will be grown in tanks out of the ocean.

The Fish on My Plate isn’t just the story of one man’s journey. It’s a must-watch documentary for any consumer who cares about both his or her own health, and the health of the planet.

The three-part program Hungry for Food delves into the physics , chemistry and biology that creates each bite of food we take.  Dr. Michael Mosley (below) and botanist James Wong celebrate the physics, chemistry, and biology hidden inside every bite.

Image result for hungry for food Dr. Michael Mosley

Together Mosley and Wong travel the world and take over the UK’s leading food lab as they deconstruct favorite meals, taking viewers inside the food, right down to the molecular level.

The documentary will also  be available on DVD July 4; the program will also be available for digital download.

Descriptions of each of the episodes included on the DVD are listed below:

We Are What We Eat
Michael and James explore how the chemicals in our food feed and build our bodies. The world is full of different cuisines and thousands of different meals. Yet when they’re reduced to their essence, there are actually just a handful of ingredients that our bodies absolutely need from our food to survive. These essential molecules come in a series of familiar sounding groups–carbohydrates, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals–but Michael and James discover plenty of surprises as they seek to understand exactly why each class of molecule is so important for the way our bodies work.

This is food taken to its fundamentals. By using the latest imaging techniques and incredibly detailed specialist photography, Michael and James offer a whole new way of thinking about the relationship we have with our modern diet.

A Matter of Taste
Michael and James explore how the marriage between chemistry and biology is the root of all the sensations, tastes, and flavors that we enjoy in our food. Michael begins by deconstructing a Thai meal. Its effect on the tongue can be reduced down to just five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and the less well-known umami. Umami is the most recently discovered of all the tastes. It’s a Japanese word that translates as ‘pleasant savory taste.’ By the end of their journey through flavor, they reveal that taste if far more than just being delicious–it’s a matter of survival.

Food on the Brain
Michael and James explore the effect of Food on the Brain. The brain is one of the greediest organs in the body in terms of the energy it needs to run. It influences our diet by generating the cravings we all experience. The food we put in our mouths has a very direct effect on all the grey matter lurking above. And the brain does something rather ingenious with all this sensory input. We all have a series of interconnections in our brains called the reward pathway. This allows us to make pleasant associations between the food we eat, who we eat it with, and where we eat it–and these feelings keep us coming back for more.

 

 

Has the federal government overstepped its authority? “American Patriot” says yes

Drawing on deep access to key people on all sides of the battle, Frontline: American Patriot (PBS Distribution) investigates the standoffs that propelled the Bundy family into the national spotlight and the crosshairs of the federal government. With “Patriot” groups that rallied to the Bundys’ cause surging to levels not seen in decades, the film also reports on what’s next for the family and the wider movement around them. The riveting documentary will be available on DVD June 13; the program will also be available for digital download.

 

The effort traces the Bundy family’s story as ranchers in the high deserts of Nevada, grazing cattle for generations on federal land and ultimately going to war against the government.

Now, their fight has become a lot bigger.

What began as one family’s dispute with the government over grazing fees has reinvigorated a national movement of self-styled militias and “Patriots.” They believe the federal government has overstepped its authority, strayed from its founding principles, and is filled with agents they are duty-bound to oppose. They call themselves Oath Keepers, Constitutional Sheriffs, sovereign citizens, Three Percenters. And while each group has its own cause, they rally under the same banner: opposition to federal overreach.

Over the past several years, many of these “Patriots” have answered the Bundys’ call, taking up arms to defend against what they see as government infringement of their rights as American citizens. In 2014, armed men faced down the federal government at the Bundy ranch when agents came to impound their cattle. In the end, the federal agents backed down. Then, last year, armed “Patriots” again joined Ammon and Ryan when they occupied a federal wildlife preserve in Oregon to protest the imprisonment of fellow ranchers, the Hammonds, who were convicted of starting fires on federal lands. Last October, Ammon, Ryan and five other supporters were acquitted of federal charges relating to the occupation. A trial for the remaining defendants is scheduled to begin next month.

 American Patriot and the accompanying written and audio story helps audiences to understand the Bundys, their fight and the people who have rallied to their cause.

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.