The Dust Bowl (2012) – Ken Burns


Ken Burns is a highly talented documentarian, and I was delighted to see a number of his films have been recently added to Netflix, so I decided to settle in this weekend and work my way through one, with the intention of making my way through every one that is currently available on the ever-improving Netflix streaming service.

The film takes you through the entire run of this manmade ecological disaster, filled with film and photographs taken at the time. To hear the stories, coupled with the amazing pictures, the film is nothing short of awe-inspiring in the true sense of the phrase, and some of the images are downright terrifying.

As you watch, giant dust clouds, towering on the horizon, dwarfing everything before them as if they were moving mountain ranges, and then when the picture changes, the storm has moved that much closer.

It took a hardy, brave, and nigh unbreakable type of people to survive this almost decade long assault, almost an act of revenge by nature for the way the land had been treated.


Everything is explored, the causes, the results, the stories of those who did and didn’t live through it. The heartbreaking tales, the wrenching pictures, Burns makes the film as revelant a commentary on today’s treatment of the ecology as it is a historical document, putting a human face on the end result of abusing the world we live in.

The film follows a number of families, not only with letters and written histories, but interviews with survivors, those who stayed, and the cost they paid for it as well as those who followed a mass exodus to California where they were met not with open arms, but with a level of racism and abuse.

Narrated by Peter Coyote, the four hour film is broken up over two episodes, both of which are completely engaging, interweaving individual stories with a national tale, from the farmer who loses everything, houses buried in sand, killing off their livestock, to a president, Roosevelt, who is struggling to find relief for the plains of America.

Without coming right out and saying it, the film is a reflection of our own times, suggesting that we need to be more aware of our impact on our environment, because something akin to this could definitely happen again.


Trying to convey the pure power of the photographs and film through words, simply pales by comparison. Words like stunning, terrifying, jaw-dropping are suitable descriptors but seeing them for yourself chills the blood.

This was my first full experience watching a Ken Burns film (I know I’m a little late to the party, but boy am I looking forward to watching the other Burns films on Netflix now!).

Have you seen any of them? Do you have a favorite? Which would you recommend?

The Dust Bowl, as well as other Ken Burns films, and a plethora of other documentaries are currently available on Netflix.

What are you watching tonight?

Dark Day in Ulysses, Kansas

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