MAY FEATURE: Humanities Documentaries

May 5, 2016

Films inspire and influence our understanding of events and emotions. They transport us back in time and into the future, to distant places and other worlds, allowing us to examine who we are and what makes us human. Through the use of documentary films, councils across the country are reaching new audiences and sharing previously untold stories of our nation in ways that challenge our understanding of history while promoting community engagement.

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The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has also been recognizing the connection between the humanities and art of storytelling through film. In 2013, the NEH selected Martin Scorsese as its Jefferson Lecturer – the highest recognition of achievement in the humanities by the government – and on May 9, another award-winning filmmaker and documentarian, Ken Burns will present the 2016 Jefferson Lecture. Ken Burns is best known for his exploration of significant historical events through several documentary films including, “The Civil War,” “The National Parks,” “Jackie Robinson,” and “Jazz.”

Check out council documentaries below on: Native American History, Natural Resources, Veterans, Conservation, Music, Business/Economy, Cultural Heritage, Literature, and Art.

Ken Burns’ Films and Council Documentaries with Similar Themes:

NATIVE AMERICAN HISTORY: If you liked Ken Burns’ The West, check out these council documentaries:

  • Medicine Woman, a film that interweaves the lives of Native American women healers of today with the story of American’s first Native doctor, Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865-1915), and which is supported by Humanities Nebraska.
  • Rising Voices / Hothaninpi – Revitalizing the Lakota Language, a film that draws support from Lakota communities around South Dakota and from organizations across the United States, telling the story of a powerful threat to Native culture… the English language. This documentary is supported by the South Dakota Humanities Council.
  • Native Oklahoma: Honoring Native American Veterans is an episode of OETA’s Native Oklahoma program that focuses on the experiences of Native American Vietnam Veterans and examines how different tribes prepare service men and women for war, welcome them home, help them readjust to civilian life, and honor their service. The episode is supported by the Oklahoma Humanities Council.
  • Metal Road Documentary is a public television documentary that explores the dynamics of Native American labor on the American railroads through the lens of a Navajo trackman in a world connected by social, economic, and political ties, and is supported by Arizona Humanities.
  • No Dogs, No Indians: The Miss Indian American Pageant is a film chronicling the Miss Indian American pageant, which was launched by Sheridan residents in the 1950s to combat discrimination, which is supported by the Wyoming Humanities Council.

NATURAL RESOURCES/THE LAND THAT SUSTAINS US: If you liked Ken Burns’ The Dust Bowl, check out these council documentaries:

  • The Great Divide is a feature-length documentary film from the Emmy award-winning team of Havey Productions, in association with Colorado Humanities, that illustrates the timeless influence of water in both connecting and dividing an arid state and region.
  • When the Well Runs Dry is a documentary short film supported by the Kansas Humanities Council where ranchers, farmers, and residents of small Kansas towns tell their stories about water – the one resource upon which their lives and livelihoods most depend.
  • Blizzard of ’49 is a one-hour documentary film that tells the story of the worst series of storms in Wyoming’s history and highlights the stories of Wyoming citizens who came together from all walks of life to demonstrate exceptional ingenuity, sacrifice, and generosity in the face of dire circumstances. The film is supported by the Wyoming Humanities Council.

VETERANS: If you liked Ken Burns’ The War or are interested in his upcoming documentary on Vietnam, check out these council veteran documentary films:

  • Delaware Veterans Documentary Project is part of a nationwide effort to honor veterans and their service to the nation. This documentary will feature veterans who choose to identify themselves through Delaware’s military service license plate designs, and is supported by the Delaware Humanities Forum.
  • Native Oklahoma: Honoring Native American Veterans is an episode of OETA’s Native Oklahoma program that focuses on the experiences of Native American Vietnam Veterans and examines how different tribes prepare service men and women for war, welcome them home, help them readjust to civilian life, and honor their service. The episode is supported by the Oklahoma Humanities Council.
  • Veterans: The Telling Project Documentary is a one-hour public-television documentary featuring veterans and chronicling their experiences in telling their stories on stage in front of a live audience supported by the Florida Humanities Council.

ENVIRONMENT AND WILDLIFE CONSERVATION: If you liked Ken Burns’ The National Parks, check out the Wyoming Humanities Council’s supported documentary Far Afield: A Conservation Love Story about one man’s journey to becoming a community leader for environmental conservation in Wyoming.

MUSIC: If you liked Ken Burns’ Jazz, we recommend checking out the North Carolina Humanities Council-supported documentary How They Got Over, a story of the emergence and prominence of black gospel quartets in North Carolina from the 1920s through the 1960s.

Council Documentaries on Business, Economy and Industry:

  • The 9 to 5 Project is a film supported by Ohio Humanities Council that analyzes the intersection of the women’s movement with the labor movement through the story of 9 to 5, an advocacy group for women clerical workers that began in 1973.
  • Cluck, Pluck and Luck: The Improbably Early History of Delmarva’s Poultry Industry takes viewers from a time when the Delmarva Peninsula south of Dover, Delaware, was isolated and most residents relied on subsistence farming to a time when chickens accounted for a multi-billion dollar industry. The film is supported by Delaware Humanities Forum and engages viewers with the history of chicken smuggling, WWII blockades, the formation of the Eastern Shore Poultry Grower’s Exchange, chicken house architecture and the rise of Perdue.
  • Blimp! Sports, Broadcasting and the Goodyear Blimp is an hour-long documentary, supported by the Ohio Humanities Council and designed for public broadcasting television stations, that seeks to explore the history of the Goodyear blimp with emphasis on the past seven decades where the airship went from glorified kid ride to being on the verge of decommissioning to the cultural icon it is today.

Council Documentaries on Cultural Heritage and Traditions:

  • Ka Hana Kapa documents the history of kapa in Hawaii and follows the complex process of Hawaiian kapa making from start to finish. Kapa, bark cloth made from the wauke plant, is used for clothing, bedding, the wrapping of ancestor bones, important ceremonies and other purposes. Supported by the Hawai’i Council for the Humanities.
  • Tupik: The Documentary Film documents the revitalization of traditional Inuit tattooing and the emergence of a vibrant international network of indigenous female tattoo artists. The film is supported by the Alaska Humanities Forum.
  • Hoosiers: The Story of Indiana is a four-part documentary series, produced by WFYI Public Media and supported by Indiana Humanities, based on James H. Madison’s book Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana, which traces the development of the state from its birth through the 21st
  • Latino Americans: 500 Years of History is a partnership grant project between the NEH and the American Library Association that highlights the history of Latinos in America and features a six-part documentary film. Humanities Nebraska was one of 203 grant recipients.
  • Film for Thought, a partnership program between the Hawaii Council for the Humanities and the Hawaii International Film Festival that features films and documentaries alongside discussions and a special showing for K-12 students.

Council Documentaries on Literature and Art:

  • Love Between the Covers is a feature-length documentary about the little-known, surprisingly powerful community of women who read and write romance novels that was part of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ 2016 Virginia Festival for the Book.
  • Georgia O’Keeffe: A Woman on Paper tells the story of Georgia O’Keeffe’s tenure at Columbia College from 1915-1916, an intense creative period that became a major turning point in the artist’s life. The film is supported by South Carolina Humanities.

Ken Burns

“In a sense, I’ve made the same film over and over again. In all of them I’ve asked,

‘Who are we as Americans?'”

– Ken Burns, award-winning filmmaker and 2016 NEH Jefferson Lecturer

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