Dust Bowl, The

Featured In Issue 172, December 2012

WSR Score5
Basic Information on new release titles is posted as soon as titles are announced. Once reviewed, additional data is added to the database.
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Not Rated
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Single Side, Dual Layer (BD-50)
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B/W With Color Sequences
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Ken Burns
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Dolby Digital 5.1
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"The Dust Bowl" chronicles the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history, when a frenzied wheat boom on the southern Plains, followed by a decade-long drought during the 1930s, nearly swept away the breadbasket of the nation. Menacing black blizzards killed farmers' crops and livestock, threatened the lives of their children, and forced thousands of desperate families to pick up and move somewhere else. Vivid interviews with more than two dozen survivors of those hard times, combined with dramatic photographs and seldom-seen movie footage, bring to life stories of incredible human suffering and equally incredible human perseverance. (Tricia Spears)

Ken Burns' epic PBS documentary "The Dust Bowl" is a historical perspective and story about the homesteading movement, which began in 1862 with the Homestead Act enacted by President Lincoln. It is a story of how the federal government offered the landless white citizens of America part-ownership of the country by giving them 160 acres of frontier land, free, if they produced on it income for themselves and their families for a period of five years. This was their first chance to own land, at the time the significant capital asset. Driven by their desire to enrich themselves and their families, they strained the vast hundreds of millions of prairie land acres, not realizing the manmade environmental disaster that were causing. Burns only casually mentions the Homestead Act and its significance and otherwise concentrates on the environmental consequences of man's overweening human ambition, heedlessness and greed. The lessons learned have enable this vast land to remain productive but the initial period was disastrous.

The proposed Capital Homestead Act (CHA) ( takes its lead from the Homestead Act of 1862. In Lincoln's America of nearly 150 years ago, the problem confronting the vast majority of the citizens of our nation was that most people owned no land (capital). Today, the major problem for the vast majority of the people of our nation and of our world, for that matter, is that 99 percent of the people own no capital (or a viable share) in a high-tech, capital-intensive economy. The Capital Homestead Act would make it possible for every American to become a viable owner of productive capital and not just for the tiny elite who now own our corporations. The slogan of the Capital Homestead Act is "Own Or Be Owned." The Capital Homestead Act's summary can be found at and at monetaryjustice.htm. (Gary Reber)

Special features on Disc One include "Land Of Haze" (HD 15:28), "Dust Bowl Stories" (HD 30:38), and "Discovering The Dust Bowl" (HD 05:41). Disc Two includes "Grab A Root And Growl" (HD 12:17), "The Dust Bowl Eyewitnesses" (HD 06:32), and "The Dust Bowl Legacy" (HD 05:19).

The 1.85:1 1080p AVC picture exhibits a traditional documentary look with a composite mixture of original interviews filmed in color and archival footage, primarily in black and white, in motion and still photography. The picture quality is thus variable but certainly the best that the sources will permit. The overall picture is softly focused throughout, to provide a general consistency in texture, except for the finely detailed close-up during the color interview segments. The subject matter told through this visual medium is absolutely engaging and thoroughly educational and is certain to be a memorable experience. (Gary Reber)

The Dolby® Digital 5.1-channel soundtrack is monaurally focused, with a subtle surround presence. The narrative by Peter Coyote, as well as the interviews, are consistently intelligible and nicely balanced against the backgrounds. Some low-end .1 LFE bass can be heard during heavy dust storm discussions, while sound effects are deployed to embellish stories. This is an effective documentary soundtrack that is well produced. (Gary Reber)