Impacting more than 100 million acres and tragically displacing the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans, the so-called "Dust Bowl" of the 1930s was an ecological disaster - and an important lesson for future generations.
The man-made disaster, caused by overfarming and severe drought, is the subject of a new documentary by Ken Burns airing this weekend on PBS. According to the 59-year-old, the film will tell "the story of 25 people who were children and teenagers during this 10-year apocalypse. They're remembering unbelievable trials as if they were yesterday."
Early reviews of the film indicate that this is another rich historical documentary from Burns - his 21st project after such classics as "The Civil War," "Thomas Jefferson," and "Prohibition."
"Through these stories, carefully interwoven with film clips, photos and expert testimony, he's delivered both a snapshot of a troubled decade and a cautionary tale of hubris in the face of nature, combined with our seeming inability to learn the economic meaning of the word "bubble," writes Robert Bianco for USA Today.
"The Dust Bowl may not persuade anyone unconvinced that mankind is contributing to the Earth’s verifiable changes in temperature and climate and the resulting wild weather," writes James Poniewozik for Time. "But it’s a powerful reminder that mankind can create massive environmental effects and that, once those take hold, mankind looks very small indeed in the face of them."
David Wiegand of the SFGate, however, felt the film could have used tighter editing; saying that it reminded him of Burns' 2009 film "The National Parks: America's Best Idea." He humorously called that one a "six-part slog that made you want to fell every tree in Yellowstone."
"'Dust Bowl' isn't quite that bad," Wiegand clarifies. "Not just because it's not as long, but because of the people who were there. Their simple words and detailed memories make this film necessary. Even all these years later, you can see and hear how fresh the memories remain, and it breaks your heart."
Burns, who also produced an illustrated companion book for the documentary, appeared today on NBC's "Morning Joe" to discuss the film. Check it out below. "The Dust Bowl" airs Nov 18th and 19th on PBS at 8PM EST.