Ken Burns: Before Sandy, there was the Dust Bowl

by Malo Herry

November 20, 2012

Originally posted to Grist, by James West.

As the East Coast licks its wounds from superstorm Sandy, many in New York and New Jersey are still without power, wondering how on Earth it got this bad.Ken Burns, the great innovator of the American documentary, thinks this is the perfect time to seek some wisdom from generations past.

His new film,The Dust Bowl, tells the story of the the worst human-made ecological disaster in U.S. history. For it, Burns and his team tracked down the last remaining survivors of the catastrophic dust storms of the 1930s and matched their intimate stories (most were children at the time) with lush archival footage.

Buried machinery in a South Dakota barn lot, 1936. Wikimedia Commons.

When I caught up with Burns in New York City, he drew comparisons between what happened then and what is happening now and how we can prevent future Dust Bowls and Sandys.

The Dust Bowlairs Nov. 18 and 19 on PBS.

[A side note: As if interviewing one of my filmmaker heroes at the studios of another intimidatingly cool mega-personality (Stephen Colbert) wasn’t nervewracking enough, running out of AAbatteries before the interview was simplymortifying.Wayembarrassing. Thank youColbert Nationfor your emergency supplies, and for rescuing what credibility I had left.]

James West is a producer for the Climate Desk. He wroteBeijing Blur, an account of modernizing Chinas underground youth scene. After completing a masters in journalism at New York University in 2007, James returned to Australia, where he worked as the executive producer of the national affairs program Hack. He has produced a variety of Australian television and radio programs, including the debate show Insight on SBS TV.

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