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Ken Burns' new film The Dust Bowl chronicles worst manmade ecological disaster in American history
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The Dust Bowl, a new two-part, four-hour documentary by Ken Burns, chronicles the environmental catastrophe that, throughout the 1930s, destroyed the farmlands of the Great Plains, turned prairies into deserts, and unleashed a pattern of massive, deadly dust storms that for many seemed to herald the end of the world. It was the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history. The Dust Bowl airs Sunday, Nov. 18 and Monday, Nov. 19 at 8/7 p.m. on KET and 10/9 p.m. on KET2.

Written and co-produced by longtime Burns collaborator Dayton Duncan, The Dust Bowl tells the story of the farming boom in the early 20th century that transformed the grassland of the southern plains into wheat fields. When a drought hit in 1931, winds began picking up soil from the open fields and grew into dust storms of biblical proportions. Each year for nearly a decade, the storms grew more ferocious and more frequent, sweeping up millions of tons of earth, killing crops and livestock, threatening to turn the southern plains into a Sahara, and spreading the dust across the country.

Children developed fatal “dust pneumonia,” business owners unable to cope with the financial ruin committed suicide, and thousands of desperate Americans were torn from their homes and forced on the road in an exodus unlike anything the United States had ever seen.

Filled with seldom-seen movie footage, previously unpublished photographs, the songs of Woodie Guthrie, interviews with 26 survivors, and the observations of two women who left behind eloquent written accounts, The Dust Bowl is a historical accounting of what happened and why.

The Dust Bowl is also a story of heroic perseverance against enormous odds: families finding ways to survive and hold on to their land, national and local government programs that kept hungry families afloat, and a partnership between government agencies and farmers to develop new farming and conservation methods.

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