Search - American Experience: Surviving the Dust Bowl on DVD

American Experience: Surviving the Dust Bowl
American Experience Surviving the Dust Bowl
Genres: Educational, Documentary
NR     2007     0hr 55min

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 Kan...  more »


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Movie Details

Genres: Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Educational, History
Studio: WGBH Boston
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 04/24/2007
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 0hr 55min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 8
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Dust Bowl
Jeffery Mingo | Homewood, IL USA | 05/01/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)

"With the title, "Surviving the Dust Bowl," I was pleased to learn that 3/4 of the residents in that region stayed, something I never knew. However, I would have liked for this work to speak more about how to survive in a disaster area, how to make ends meet, and how to keep one's sanity.

The work is diverse in terms of gender. Because many Native Americans live in that region, I wish they could have been brought up. Did they stay because reservations aren't mobile? It's never stated. The work is a bit Eurocentric. Still, seeing female and male Dust Bowl survivors cry about their ordeal tugged at my heart. One interviewee probably had Parkinson's Disease. I wish this could have been stated because viewers unfamiliar with the malady may have thought the memories were causing her to shake that way.

This work is very focused on visuals. Yes, moving images had been around for three decades before the disaster, but still when someone says, "Dirt whirled a mile up," you could see it. When another person says, "All the livestock died," they show it. To the contrary, the work says farmers had to change their techniques and they don't really spell out what they did wrong and how they tried to improve. The narrator says the disaster could and did happen again, but no further facts are given.

Usually, geographic mobility is seen as a good think, or at least, geographic immobility is portrayed as being bad. So this documentary does flip the script in trying to positively portrayed people who stayed in harsh conditions. Seeing this also reminded me of Farm Aid concerts and how risky agricultural life can be."
Almost essential for learning about the Dust Bowl and the De
Up The Stairs | Seattle, WA | 03/27/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"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."
Excellent in some ways, but in another aspect, attempts to a
Tom Brody | Berkeley, CA | 12/29/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)

"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. This movie about Taft, CA, which features Robin Williams and Kurt Russell, is called THE BEST OF TIMES. It is a historical fact that Taft, CA, was the victim of a hoard of invading mice.

CRITICISM. The movie is sparse on details as to the nature of the poor farming practices that led, in part, to the Dust Bowl. For the reader's convenience, I have reproduced some of these details below. Also, the movie fails disclose many details as to how the U.S.government educated farmers on how to avoid future dust bowls. I have also reproduced some of these details below (see below).

MORE CRITICISMS. The movie, which is only of moderate length, devotes a minute to describing the classic film THE PLOW THE BROKE THE PLAINS. THE PLOW THAT BROKE THE PLAINS, which is only 28 minutes long, could easily have been included in the present DVD product (but it wasn't). The present DVD product also fails to include some of America's most classic and enduring images, namely, the Dust Bowl photographs of Dorthea Lange (May 26, 1895-Oct. 11, 1965). Dorthea Lange's photographs have become some of the icons (well-accepted symbols) of the United States of America (though not quite in the same league as icons, such as the Empire State Building or Yosemite Valley).

The movie could also have shown a graph depicting rainfall for each year, from circa 1900 to 1960. But there was no such graph. The film briefly alludes to the accomplishments of Mr.Hugh Bennett, but really should have spent a little time disclosing the bare details of Mr.Bennett's accomplishments. I am under the impression that the people who made this movie do not like science, do not want to inspire children, and that their goal was to dumb-down a fascinating subject, and to do the minimum amount of work needed to fill an hour's worth of time.

To some extent, the documentary is a "puff-piece." But it is an elegant and carefully hewn and artistically wrought puff-piece.

"BLACK BLIZZARD" FROM THE HISTORY CHANNEL. The History Channel provides a DVD called "Black Blizzard" on exactly the same topic. While I have not seen it, the product description discloses that the production team included a, "renowned team of scientists . . .recreate . . . the BLACK BLIZZARDS in amazingly realistic detail. See how they form, what they're made of, and how they affect people's health, clothing, food and environment . . . commentary from historians, climatologists.").

It is clear from this product description, that BLACK BLIZZARD is not frightened of scientific details, in contrast to the DVD under review, which makes every attempt to AVOID details of science, meteorology, climatology, and agricultural practices. Why not splurge, and purchase both discs?


CAUSES OF THE DUST BOWL. Wind and drought alone did not create the Dust Bowl. Man had disturbed nature's delicate balance of wind, rain, and grass. Fifty years earlier, a strong, protective carpet of buffalo grass had covered the Great Plains. The grass held moisture in the soil and kept the soil from blowing away. In dry years, the wind blew out huge craters, later mistakenly called "buffalo wallows"; but as long as the turf remained, the land could recover. By about 1890, farmers began staking out homesteads in regions once considered too arid for use as anything but range land. Wherever they went, they plowed under the buffalo grass. During World War I, the demand for wheat, along with the fortuitous invention of the tractor, meant plowing larger areas of the virgin grassland. Between 1914 and 1917, the area of wheat planted increased to 27,000,000 acres; over forty percent of this land was being plowed for the first time. After the war, the plowing continued. Larger tractors and combines, new machines that could harvest and thresh grain in one operation, inaugurated the age of the wheat kings. By 1930, there were almost three times as many acres in wheat production as ten years earlier, and the tractors were still tearing open the turf. The plow had exposed the land to rain, wind, and sun. By 1932, the earth on the plains was ready to blow.

REPAIRING DAMAGE TO THE LAND. The Dust Bowl speeded the development of long-range federal programs in the new field of soil conservation. A veteran conservationist, Franklin D. Roosevelt in late 1933 created the Soil Erosion Service, later the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), with Hugh Bennett as its head. The SCS's task was to supply technical assistance and leadership, while local soil conservation districts carried out Bennett's program of strip crops, contourplowing, stubble-mulch farming, and terracing. More dramatically, the Forest Service under Ferdinand A. Silcox in 1934 started planting a shelter belt of trees, within a 100-mile wide zone, from Canada to the Texas Panhandle.