In 1961, segregation seemed to have an overwhelming grip on American society. Many states violently enforced the policy, while the federal government, under the Kennedy administration, remained indifferent, preoccupied with matters abroad. That is, until an integrated band of college students — many of whom were the first in their families to attend a university — decided, en masse, to risk everything and buy a ticket on a Greyhound bus bound for the Deep South. They called themselves the Freedom Riders, and they managed to bring the president and the entire American public face to face with the challenge of correcting civil-rights inequities that plagued the nation.
In the tiny town of Edna, Texas, in 1951, a field hand named Pete Hernandez murdered his employer after exchanging heated words in a gritty cantina. From this unremarkable small-town murder emerged a landmark civil rights case that would forever change the lives and legal standing of tens of millions of Americans. American Experience: A Class Apart airs Monday, March 21, 2011 at 8pm.
When gay bar Stonewall Inn was raided in 1969, gay men and women did something they had not done before: they fought back. As told by those present, the streets of New York erupted into violent protests and demonstrations, announcing that the gay rights movement had arrived. American Experience: Stonewall Uprising airs April 25 at 8pm.
When a devastating famine descended on Soviet Russia in 1921, Americans responded with a massive two-year relief campaign. This documentary reveals the riveting story of America’s engagement with a distant and desperate people. American Experience: The Great Famine airs Monday, April 11 at 8pm.
There have been other documentaries about Glenn Gould, a profoundly enigmatic musical poet, but they were typically sidetracked by his eccentricities, focusing on the pills and gloves and scarves — missing the man, the magic and the message behind his music. AMERICAN MASTERS artfully pierces through the myths and misconceptions about this humming and hunched figure, whose fingers glided across the piano as no one’s before or since. The film unravels the layers of an iconic, but intensely private, musician who had a revolutionary understanding of the Baroque masters — and a sentimental love for Barbara Streisand and Petula Clark. Gould followed his sensational 1955 New York City concert debut at the age of 22 by taking his talent to the Soviet Union and became an equally prodigious star there. But, after a decade-long thriving international career, he defied the critics and shocked and disappointed his fans by leaving the concert circuit completely. In 1964, he chose to focus exclusively on the recording arts, believing that this medium could create a transcendental relationship between artist and audience, overcoming the limitations of time and space. He used music to reach across language, culture and ideology, rediscovering Bach for a new generation and always, intentionally or not, perpetuating the cloud of mystery that surrounded him. This film considers the western cult of celebrity that surrounded this reclusive artist — the myth is humanized and viewers are given the opportunity to grasp the passion and inspiration that gave rise to his genius and incomparable power of expression. Told with the benefit of his remarkable recordings and through interviews with those who knew him best — his lover, his manager, his personal assistant, his collaborators — Gould is revealed and newly revered.
In the first comprehensive documentary to chronicle the private life and public career of Joan Baez, this film examines her history as a recording artist and performer as well as her unwavering journey as the conscience of a generation. Following her 2008/2009 world tour, the filmmakers captured Baez in performance and in intimate conversations with individuals whose lives parallel hers. From a reunion with Vaclav Havel in Slovakia to a stop in Sarajevo, Bosnia, to revisit the scene of her trip to the war-torn city, to Nashville, Tennessee, where she joined Steve Earle (collaborator on Baez’ 2008 Grammy-nominated album Day After Tomorrow ), the film allows viewers an unprecedented level of access to Baez, who is joined in the film by Bob Dylan, David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Reverend Jesse Jackson, among others. Rich archival footage is woven into the story, allowing viewers to experience scenes from her life, including Baez as a teenager performing at the historic Club 47, Martin Luther King Jr. outside a California prison where he offered his support after she was jailed for staging a protest and her controversial visit to North Vietnam during the war. The grit of the film is Baez’ power as a musician, from her tentative teenage years in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, coffee houses to the remarkable 50-year career that followed.
Nearly a century after his death, John Muir is remembered and revered as the father of the environmental movement and the founder of the Sierra Club. It was this Scottish American who believed that it was our responsibility as citizens to protect our natural surroundings. And, by example and by passion, he taught us how to care for our wilderness treasures. Through his tireless advocacy and his writings, he almost single-handedly preserved the Yosemite Valley of California and was the force behind the creation of the National Park Service. Filmed throughout the majestic landscapes in which Muir traveled, this documentary places our nation’s most important wilderness assets in a cultural and social context. Muir’s story could not be a timelier reminder of America’s unique and, ultimately, threatened eco-systems.
LENNONYC is the story of one of the most famous and influential artists of the 20th century and how he found redemption not in the public adoration he craved as a youth, but in the quiet and simple pleasures of fatherhood. It is also a New York immigrant’s tale. Lennon came to New York City in 1971 seeking what every other immigrant has sought: freedom — the freedom to be himself and not “Beatle John,” the freedom to live a normal life.
This first authorized film poetically documents Seeger’s unique experience and contributions. The man who introduced America to its own folk heritage, he deeply believes in the power of song and is convinced that individuals can make a difference. He made a whole generation passionate about playing the guitar and picking the banjo, and got them singing together and using music as a force for social change. Largely misunderstood by his critics, including the U.S. government, for his views on peace, civil rights and ecology, Seeger went from the top of the hit parade to the top of the blacklist – banned from commercial television for more than 17 years. His inspiring, but not always easy, story is told by everyone from Bob Dylan to the Dixie Chicks and through a remarkable historical archive – a history that Seeger himself, now almost 90 years old, helped create.
American Masters: Pete Seeger – The Power of Song
Watch Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 9:30pm on KCPT2