Offering a fresh perspective on the American experience, 10 acclaimed documentary filmmakers present 10 pivotal moments in United States history and the often unexpected changes they triggered.
These critical but unsung pieces of history include a local rebellion that inspired a national constitution, bullets fired in Buffalo, New York, and even a crooner from Memphis who couldn't stand still. These are just a few of the fascinating subjects explored in this series of 10 riveting one-hour documentaries. Together, these films represent compelling stories about less well known events that serve as a lens with which to view the range of the American experience.
From the first massacre of Native Americans to the single bloodiest day in American history, from a courtroom battle of science vs. religion that still rages today to the racial murders that led to the Voting Rights Act, these are the events that tested America's soul and forged her destiny.
From the very first slaughter of Native Americans by English settlers in 1637 ("Massacre at Mystic") to the civil rights movement's "Freedom Summer" of 1964, each episode places its one-day event in vivid historical context, concisely demonstrating how these events had a ripple effect on America's national identity. Some episodes are more experimental than others: Directed by Emmy-winner R.J. Cutler, "Shay's Rebellion: America's First Civil War" (1787) employs the uniquely expressionistic animation of Bill Plympton, far removed from the more familiar (but no less effective) style of dramatization included in "Einstein's Letter" (about the famed physicist's 1939 letter urging Franklin D. Roosevelt to develop nuclear weapons) or "Scopes: The Battle Over America's Soul" (about the sensational 1925 "Monkey Trial" over the teaching of evolution). With varying degrees of documentary ingenuity, other episodes cover the California gold rush of 1849; the Civil War's bloody battle of Antietam; the violent 1892 "Homestead Strike" of united laborers against Carnegie Steel; the 1901 assassination of President William McKinley; and the dynamic appearances of Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. Presented in chronological order, these ten films offer lasting value to history buffs, teachers, and anyone interested in understanding how American history was forged in the furnace of tumultuous change. The sole bonus feature is a 30-minute survey of each episode's director and their distinct methods of completing their assignments. Their cumulative efforts combine to form one of the most wide-ranging and fascinating series the History Channel has ever presented. --Jeff Shannon