American Experience: Season 16 (2003 - 2004)


Season 16
American Experience

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Air date: Sep 8, 2003

The three-hour documentary Center of the World is part of producer/director Ric Burns' massive 14 1/2-hour filmed history of New York City. More specifically, this film is an outgrowth of the five-minute coda to Burns' previous effort The City and the World: 1945 to Present, hastily added to acknowledge the horrendous terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. Center of the World focuses on the World Trade Center, from its embryonic inception in 1946 through the finalized design submitted by architect Minoru Yamasaki in 1962, and on to the construction of what would become Manhattan's tallest, most awe-inspiring and most controversial skyscraper structure. (For every commentator who admired the WTC, there was one who dismissed it as mere "aluminum siding.") The last 45 minutes of the film concentrates on the destruction of the Twin Towers and the aftermath of the tragedy, with a subliminal subtext suggesting that the attack may have been inadvertently brought about by the "economic imperialism" of the United States (though this theory is heartily rejected by several of the notables interviewed for the film). Among those offering commentary on New York City in general and the WTC in particular are journalists Mike Wallace, Pete Hammil, and Jimmy Bresliln; former mayor Mario Cuomo; history professor and frequent Burns collaborator Niall Ferguson; and Kenneth Jackson, president of the New York Historical Society. Center of the World made its American TV debut as an episode of the PBS anthology American Experience.

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Air date: Jan 12, 2004

"Revolution" is part one of American Experience: Reconstruction -- The Second Civil War, a two-part documentary series on PBS. In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated shortly after delivering a speech about the realities of Reconstruction and Andrew Johnson was made president. Enemies from the North and South had to work together in order to get the country back in order. Much of the plantation land was destroyed and abandoned. General William Tecumseh Sherman orders 40 acres and a mule to be given to each African-American family. Black activists like Tunis Campbell build independent communities in Georgia. Historians and archival journal entries offer insight and commentary.

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Air date: Jan 13, 2004

"Retreat" is the second part of American Experience: Reconstruction -- The Second Civil War, a two-part documentary series on PBS. Blacks gain the right to vote in the South, leading to many new legislators like former slave John Lynch. Southern plantation landowners like Frances Butler negotiate labor contracts with their former slaves. Secret groups like the Ku Klux Klan form in opposition to black political power, trying to scare people away from voting. In response to the violence, President Ulysses S. Grant sends federal troops to the South and occupies the territory. In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes pulls the troops out of the South and ends the Reconstruction.

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Air date: Jan 19, 2004

Part of the American Experience series on PBS, the biopic Citizen King commemorates what would have been the 75th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Directed by Orlando Bagwell and written by W. Noland Walker (the writing/directing team of Africans in America), this documentary explores the last five years of King's life. Using archival materials and contemporary commentary, the story follows the pivotal five years from his famous speech in Washington, D.C., in 1963 to his murder in Memphis, TN, in 1968. It includes insight from King's closest colleagues along with commentary from journalists, historians, and scholars, as well as employees of the U.S. government. Citizen King was both aired on PBS and shown at the Sundance Film Festival as part of a special screening on January 19, 2004.

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Air date: Feb 2, 2004

In the 1830s, Texas was under the control of Mexico, but as an increasing number of Mexicans began to immigrate to Texas alongside the substantial community of Americans who had come to settle the territory, Mexico began to more aggressively assert its rule; however, the new American settlers began to chafe under Mexican authority, and the Mexican-Texans (or Tejanos) were forced to choose a side as the conflict grew into a war for Texan independence. The battle of the Alamo became a pivotal event in this conflict, and Remember the Alamo is a documentarythat looks at the events which led up to the battle, as well as its consequences. Produced for the PBS series The American Experience, Remember the Alamo aired in 2003 to coincide with the release of The Alamo, a fictional reworking of this true story.

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Air date: Feb 9, 2004

Harvard historian Laurie Kahn-Leavitt (A Midwife's Tale) writes and directs the documentary film Tupperware!, narrated by Kathy Bates. She and her team spent a year doing research at the Smithsonian Archives and interviewing around 300 people involved with the company. The story starts with the invention of Tupperware by scientist Earl Silas Tupper. Then homemaker Brownie Wise got the idea to sell Tupperware to other housewives through the magic of Tupperware home parties. In 1958, the business partnership between Tupper and Wise ended, but Tupperware ladies continued to proliferate. As a lucrative business, Tupperware marked a time of social change where many different classes of women were encouraged to become financially independent. Tupperware! is scheduled for a 2004 broadcast on PBS as part of the American Experience series.

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Air date: Apr 12, 2004

The remarkable life of the immigrant christened "the most dangerous woman in America" is explored in this documentary focusing on noted birth-control advocate and anti-military conscription activist Emma Goldman. A noted Russian-born woman who became the leader of the anarchist movement upon immigrating into the United States, Goldman subsequently earned such nicknames as "Red Emma" and "Queen of the Anarchists" for her outspoken vocal attacks on the government and her staunch opposition to World War I.

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Air date: Apr 19, 2004

More than 227 years after determined American militias stood their ground against the British at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, sixty-five of his Majesty's tenth regiment and sixty-seven bold American rebels still draw arms to reenact those fateful battles. In this documentary that sets out to explore the patriotic enthusiasm of these action-oriented historians, filmmakers showcase the remarkable impact that love of country and passion for performance can have on a small group of people who have dedicated their lives to the American spirit.

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Air date: May 3, 2004

The fascinating tale of the structure often called one of the "Seven Wonders of the Modern World" comes to the screen in a documentary that originally aired as part of PBS's American Experience series. Before the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, harried hustler and energetic self-promoter Joseph Strauss had never designed or even overseen the construction of such a structure, though after 13 years of political red tape and damaging lawsuits, it was finally time to break ground and put his comprehensive plans to the ultimate test. Thanks to a dedicated crew of designers and construction workers, Strauss was finally able to realize his lifelong dream of constructing one of the most massive suspension bridges ever conceived.

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