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Award-winning film director Ken Burns talks about new documentary

9:44 AM, Nov 13, 2012   |    comments
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The Dust Bowl was the worst manmade, ecological disaster in American history - in which the heedless actions of thousands of individual farmers, encouraged by their government and influenced by global markets, resulted in a collective tragedy that nearly swept away the breadbasket of the nation.

"The Dust Bowl," is a two-part, four-hour documentary that encapsulates the 1930s environmental catastrophe which destroyed several Great Plains farms, converted prairies into deserts and unleashed a pattern of massive, deadly dust storms that for many seemed to herald the end of the world.

The documentary is filled with seldom-seen movie footage, previously unpublished photographs, the songs of Woody Guthrie, and the observations of two remarkable women who left behind eloquent written accounts. It is part oral history, using compelling interviews of 26 survivors of those hard times - what will probably be the last recorded testimony of the generation that lived through the Dust Bowl. The Dust Bowl will air on PBS on Nov. 18 and 19.

"If we show the same neglect to the limits of nature now as we did the, it is entirely possible that this could happen again," Burns said.

Burns has been making films for more than 30 years. Since 1981, Burns has directed and produced some of the most acclaimed historical documentaries in history. Some of his critically acclaimed work includes Prohibition, The Tenth Inning, The National Parks, The War, Blackness, Horatio's Drive, Mark Twain and Thomas Jefferson.

Burns talked about what people endured from "The Dust Bowl."

"If you think about the 1930s, we normally think about the Depression, the worst, hard times of ever, and then you add in it for the folks in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and the pan-handle of Texas and the Pan-handle of Oklahoma and other states is Dust Bowl - the worst of all ecological disasters is man made," Burn said.

"What we found in the folks in Morton County Kansas, from Texas Clayton County, New Mexico [was] extraordinary resilience. We dropped down; we made appeals in the local PBS stations and found folks with not only photographs, but memories. That is to say themselves and while they're in their late 80s and 90s now, they were kids and teenagers back then remembering with as accurate as any adult the memories of these terrible hard times."

"We just can't imagine 10 years of a apocalyptic storms, 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 building the Panama Canal," Burn said.

Burn also talked about the likelihood of a storm like this happening again.

"We could, we learned a lot of lessons from 'The Dust Bowl.' We also forgot a lot of lessons. We've also sort of gotten pampered by the fact that we've sent down a million straws into the vast Ogallala Aquifer, but that's not going to last forever. Some people say five years, 10 years, 20 years, but whatever it is in the lifetime of our children, it's going to disappear and we could be faced with an American Sahara again," Burn said.

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Nate Chisholm contributed to this report.

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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