documentaries | November 12, 2012

Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl Reminds Us About The Strength Of The Human Spirit

The Dust Bowl, the newest documentary from acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns, portrays a series of man-made storms so severe that residents of The Great Plains region thought that they were witnessing the end of the world. In an interview with 9News, the award-winning director talks about making the film and paints a terrifying picture of what it was like living with the decade-long dust storms of the 1930s. "We just can't imagine 10 years of apocalyptic storms," Burns said, "not just a handful of storms, but hundreds of storms, sometimes hundreds of storms a year that blotted out the noon day sun and picked up as much dirt as we excavated in ten years of building the Panama Canal." These storms, Burns notes, were a mile-and-a-half high and sometimes as much as 250 miles long. They covered cities in a dark, unrelenting coat of dirt and dust that nearly destroyed The Great Plains region of the United States completely. The worst part, he laments, is that these storms—called the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history—were completely preventable.

"We took this grassland that should have never been plowed—larger than the state of Ohio—and turned it to wheat production," Burns explains, "and when the drought came in and the winds blew, that topsoil blew away and we almost lost this productive area." He created the film not only as a way of telling the story of this horrible period, but as a reminder that poor foresight and a lack of political will can create tremendous disasters. "The lessons in The Dust Bowl film are both at a human level, about perseverance, but [also at] a broad national level about what we do when we cooperate and what we do when we don't cooperate," says Burns.

This film, like many of his other works, chronicles not only the events that shaped a nation, but also tells the stories of dignity, grit, and the strength of the human condition to overcome difficult times. Some of his films include Baseball, Jazz and The Civil War; he is a two-time Academy Award-nominee and the recipient of numerous other major awards in film. With over 25 years of experience in the industry, Burns has developed a knack for not only telling inspiring stories on film, but to live audiences as well.

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science | November 11, 2012