PBS // 2011 // 82 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // February 12th, 2011
"Nobody knew how this was going to be done."
In the early years of the twentieth century, Americans dug a really big hole through the middle of the young nation of Panama. Eventually -- on August 15, 1914, to be specific -- ships started going through the Panama Canal, which was a lot easier than going around all of South America.
American Experience: Panama Canal, a PBS documentary, goes all around the construction of the Panama Canal, using the words of the people involved, vintage photos and film, news clippings, and expert comments to reconstruct the era.
The documentary shows the Americans as both heroic and villainous. You'll admire the way the builders battled malaria and yellow fever to complete a massive project no one had done before. You'll also be angry at Teddy Roosevelt for fueling Panama's breakaway from Colombia, which didn't want a canal, and at the project bosses who segregated the West Indian workers. You'll also be simply shocked at a death toll which led to a railroad being rerouted directly to a cemetery.
The picture and sound are decent, varying as expected with the source materials. The lack of extras means this one's probably mostly for libraries and schools. Supplemental material would still have been helpful because of the canal's importance.
The story of how the canal was built is simply fascinating, and Panama Canal does a thorough job of telling that story. I did wish that I could have heard how Panamanians lived with this big thing literally splitting their nation in two, or seen the impact of the canal over the twentieth century, but that simply wasn't part of the documentary's scope.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated