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Ken Burns takes on 'The Dust Bowl'

January 5, 2012 |  7:21 pm

Dust bowl

There are BIG projects from Ken Burns ("Baseball," "Jazz," and "The Civil War"), and there are the less ambitious stories ("Thomas Jefferson" and "Mark Twain") from the New Hampshire-based documentarian who has become in many ways a de facto national historian.

"The Dust Bowl," which PBS officials at the Winter TV press tour in Pasadena said will air in November 2012 and focuses on the worst man-made disaster in American history, falls into the latter category. But, at least as evidenced by the clips shown to critics and television journalists Thursday, it doesn't mean the material is any less compelling.

The glimpse of the project, narrated by Burns' regular Peter Coyote, relies on Depression-era footage and first person interviews with those who lived through the ecological crisis that destroyed millions of acres of once-fertile land and that lasted nearly a decade in some parts. The disaster, brought on by overplanting and drought conditions, produced huge sandstorms that cut visibility down to yards and eventually led to hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the region for states such as California.   

Burns is slated to talk to critics about the documentary this summer.


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-- Martin Miller

Photo: A cloud of dust fills the sky near Boise City, Okla., in 1935. Credit: Associated Press