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American Experience: Surviving the Dust Bowl

32 customer reviews

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American Experience: Surviving the Dust Bowl + Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl
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Editorial Reviews

In 1931 the rains stopped and the "black blizzards" began. Powerful dust storms carrying millions of tons of stinging, blinding black dirt swept across the Southern Plains--the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, western Kansas, and the eastern portions of Colorado and New Mexico. Topsoil that had taken a thousand years per inch to build suddenly blew away in only minutes. One journalist traveling through the devastated region dubbed it the "Dust Bowl."

This American Experience film presents the remarkable story of the determined people who clung to their homes and way of life, enduring drought, dust, disease--even death--for nearly a decade. Less well-known than those who sought refuge in California, typified by the Joad family in John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," the Dust Bowlers who stayed overcame an almost unbelievable series of calamities and disasters.


Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: WGBH Boston
  • DVD Release Date: April 24, 2007
  • Run Time: 55 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000MZGN5Y
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,768 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Up The Stairs on March 27, 2008
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A well produced television special on the Dust Bowl. Though somewhat incomplete in its depiction of the Dust Bowl, Surviving the Dust Bowl gives a very good over view of that drastic event in U.S. history. It works very well as a tool to give modern students a perspective on 1930s American history and its implications to present day. While it does seem to lack in-depth analysis, I don't think that should dissuade people, as there is only so much a producer can do in a 50 minute television program. The really good thing about it is the inclusion of people who were there and witnessed it. It goes well with The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Tom Brody VINE VOICE on December 29, 2009
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SURVIVING THE DUST BOWL is a 55 minute film. The movie devotes roughly equal times to black & white sequences and to color sequences. The black & white sequences include images of still photographs, as well as a generous selection of live action movies. The quality of the black & white films, as reproduced in this DVD, is generally quite good. The color sequences include movies of present-day wheat fields, and a generous dose of interviews with elderly people. The elderly interviewees are childhood survivors of the Dust Bowl.

There are plenty of images of dark, ominous dust storms, looming over the horizon and approaching closer and closer. There are movies of people sweeping their porches, sweeping dust from windowsills, putting masks on horses, and masks on schoolchildren. There are plenty of pictures of ploughs, ploughing what appears to be, for all practical purposes, a desert wasteland. There are some fine images of old automobiles, toting families away from the Dust Bowl, in search of better farming in California. There are scenes from town meetings, where villagers have banded together in solidarity, and assert their determination to stay living in the Dust Bowl.

One unusual scene is a bird's nest made out of barbed wire (the bird was not able to find grasses, and used wire instead). The most unusual part of the entire DVD is a black & white motion picture sequence showing thousands of rabbits invading from the hills. The rabbit sequence is, in my opinion, one of the most bizarre and strange film-sequences known to mankind. I won't reveal the details here, since what happens is rather gross. The rabbit sequence is similar to the invading mouse sequence, found in a movie about Taft, California.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Roxie G. Powell on January 14, 2011
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Many Americans are unaware of either the fact or the extent of the Dust Storm period during the late twenties and early thirties in the area covering the Texas Panhandle, the Oklahoma Panhandle and Southeastern Colorado and Southwestern Kansas. This DVD provides an excellent overview with significant details of that conflagration of dust.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Nelaine on February 7, 2014
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Ever since it came out, I have used the American Experience film, SURVIVING THE DUST BOWL, in teaching about the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. I had the VCR version, then got the DVD. The power of the pictures themselves and the analysis of them, connected to the interviews with survivors, brings to life a terrible time in American history. It also reveals the resilience of the human spirit. This is an especially useful book and film in this current time, in which we are also experiencing financial crisis and world-shaking droughts in parts of this country and around the world. Anyone in California right now knows the fear of loss of water. Reading and watching allows not only shared experience, but hope. These people came through it; so can we, today. But it is hard.
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As a musician who tours at least 200 days out of every year and spends time in the studio when I'm not on the road, I find that if I don't keep a number of interesting books with me on the road, my brain completely turns to mush.

One of the books I read recently was The Happy Immortals, a great novel set partially in the Dust Bowl years.

I'd traveled through and flown over the Oklahoma Panhandle many times, but didn't know a lot about the area or what this land had gone through.

Anyway, the interest from that novel led to a search for historical books and films about the Dust Bowl, including this one.

It's an unforgettable 55 minutes, as gritty and real as it gets.

Kudos to the people who produced, directed, wrote, and filmed this remarkable film.

BTW, two more excellent historical books on the Dust Bowl and the Oklahoma Panhandle are The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, Letters from the Dust Bowl, and Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s.
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I thought this version more personable. I think a teacher using this would already have prepared students or their own children that this is an example, a gross example of erosin and what can happen when the land is not respected and there are not good farming practices in place which was its own gradual revolution of understanding. I got a much better sense in this version of its mission to show how people endured the unimaginable. I still can't imagine! These people did what you do in a hard place. They looked deep within themselves in order to survive and some didn't.You could still see the pain on their aged faces. I can only be thankful it was not my experience. Also, I appreciated the data about good government reform and response that helped these areas make a comeback. An American story not easy to watch but well worth your time. I appreciate the ease with which I can go right to Amazon and find what I've just heard about or seen and order usually at a savings price of quality.
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