American Experience: Season 17 (2004 - 2005)


Season 17
American Experience

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Air date: Oct 4, 2004

This documentary explores Robert Kennedy's life and his search for a purpose to devote it to both before and after his legendary brother's death. Sympathetic and tragic, the perspective of this program is that Robert Kennedy's true voice was suppressed over and over again until it was silenced forever with an assassin's bullet.

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Air date: Oct 18, 2004

Following up his 2000 Academy Award-nominated Scottsboro: An American Tragedy, documentary filmmaker Barak Goodman helmed this film, exploring boxing's heavyweight championship match of June 22, 1938. The match, between African-American Joe Louis and Nazi Germany's Max Schmeling, gained world-wide attention and garnered the largest radio audience in history, as the fighters became unwitting representatives for each of their respective homelands and races. Narrated by actor Courtney B. Vance, Goodman's film uses archival footage of the fight and the events leading up to it to examine the men and the weighty meaning attached to their face-off. The Fight screened in competition at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.

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Air date: Jan 31, 2005

In 1959, when Fidel Castro led a ragtag revolutionary army which miraculously overthrew the corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista, he was hailed as a hero around the world, though many of the same people who praised him soon became his enemies when Castro installed a Communist government and entered into an alliance with the Soviet Union. Castro seemed to particularly enjoy baiting the United States of America (with his island only 90 miles from the Florida coast), but despite attempts on his life by the CIA, the enmity of a number of American presidents, the fall of the Soviet Union, and an economic stranglehold that threatens to starve his people, Castro remains a tenacious and charismatic leader who rules Cuba with an iron hand, though the man behind the image is known to only a trusted few. The American Experience: Fidel Castro is a documentary produced for PBS which profiles both the public leader and the private man, featuring interviews with family members, friends, political associates, writers, and activists who offer their perspectives on one of the most controversial leaders of the 20th century.

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Air date: Feb 7, 2005

This documentary chronicles the 1942 building of the Alaskan Highway. It illustrates the effect that the Pearl Harbor bombing had on the decision to begin construction and examines the hardships that the American soldiers tasked with this job were forced to endure, from fierce cold to forced segregation.

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Air date: Feb 14, 2005

This documentary about controversial sexologist Alfred Kinsey uses archival footage interspersed with interviews with those who knew the scientist to paint a picture that shows how Kinsey's own sexual predilections may have influenced the groundbreaking work he accomplished while working at the University of Indiana. Among those interviews are family members, co-workers, and a people who actually took Kinsey's revolutionary survey.

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Air date: Apr 4, 2005

Profiling Mary Pickford, the silent-screen "sweetheart" who blazed the trail to Hollywood and became "America's first superstar," as narrator Laura Linney calls her. Pickford (1893-1979) was also an astute businesswoman: She founded United Artists with Charlie Chaplin and her husband-to-be Douglas Fairbanks. But, as filmmaker Sue Williams stresses here, there was no glorious sunset. As Pickford biographer Eileen Whitfield puts it, she was "the first has-been created by film."

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Air date: Apr 11, 2005

This documentary chronicles millionaire Cyrus Field's quest to run a cable across the Atlantic ocean, enabling wired communication between Britain and America, a task he finally completed in 1866.

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Air date: Apr 18, 2005

In 1931, Hawaii had not yet been granted statehood, but the presence of the United States was already strong - the islands had been declared a U.S. territory, and the American military wasted no time in taking advantage of their strategic location, while agricultural firms made use of the abundant sugar and fruit crops. Late in the summer that year, news of a shocking crime swept the islands -- Thalia Fortescue Massie, whose husband was a lieutenant in the Navy, claimed that she had been beaten and raped by a gang of five men while traveling from Waikiki to Honolulu. While she claimed to be unable to identify the men who had attacked her (she also bore no physical signs of the alleged attack), and despite the lack of any evidence tying them to the crime, two Hawaiian islanders were arrested, along with two men of Japanese descent and one of Chinese heritage. At the men's trial, Mrs. Massie suddenly claimed that she did remember what had happened, offering detailed and graphic details and even identifying the accused by name. While evidence presented at their trial clearly proved the men could not have committed the crime, the jury was unable to reach a verdict, and when they were arrested on bail pending a new trial, one of the men was attacked and brutally beaten by American servicemen. Soon afterward, Grace Hubbard Fortescue, Thalia's mother, arrived in Hawaii determined to protect her family's reputation; later, one of the accused men was found dead in her car in what she eventually admitted was a revenge killing. The American Experience: The Massie Affair is a documentary that examines the facts behind this series of crimes, and explores the tragic legacy it has left on the people of Hawaii. Produced for PBS, The American Experience: The Massie Affair was first aired on April 18, 2005.

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Air date: Apr 25, 2005

"The Fall of Saigon" is the final episode of the multi-award-winning 1983 series "Vietnam: A Television History." Told in news clips and recollections by Vietnamese and Americans (including Gerald R. Ford and Henry Kissinger), the hour begins with the January 1973 peace treaty. It amounted to "a death sentence" for South Vietnam, says a South Vietnamese colonel. And when the end came, it was chaotic. "We really just cut and ran," recalls U.S. aide William LeGro.

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Air date: May 2, 2005

Victory in the Pacific documents the ending of the fighting in World War II's Pacific Theater. The film shows how the brutality and fatalities increased, and lays out the timeline of the various choices that led to the dropping of the atomic bomb -- the act that led most directly to the end of WWII. This video is part of the American Experience series.

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