In Secrets of the Dead: Van Gogh’s Ear, Researcher Bernadette Murphy travels back in time to learn the truth about Vincent Van Gogh. Premiering December 14, 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), the program explores if the infamous story of Van Gogh cutting off his own ear on December 23, 1888.
Van Gogh’s Ear will give you insight into the life of the artist. The documentary is a really intriguing mystery of his days in Arles, answering the questions – was the story of his ear a fake, and who was the mystery girl ‘Rachel’ who they say received his gory gift?
- By Joseph Padalino, edited by Edward Gregory.
Hamilton’s America is revolutionary documentary that tells how Lin-Manuel Miranda and his collaborators made a hit Broadway musical. Premiering Friday, October 21 on PBS’ Great Performances (9 p.m. Eastern – check local listings), the documentary, three years in the making, is a before-and-after look at the making of Hamilton, the hottest show on Broadway.
Miranda read Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow’s book about the man and his life-long conflict with Aaron Burr. He imagined the characters speaking and he wrote a rap song. Then he kept adding more until he had a full musical. We follow Lin and his collaborators through the tag-team process all the way to the show’s Broadway opening.
In Hamilton’s America, we meet the Chernow and filmmaker Alex Horwitz, who made the film for Great Performances. We also meet presidents Barack Obama and George Bush, and other national leaders along with musical theater luminaries Stephen Sondhiem and John Weidman, late night host Jimmy Fallon, and musicians Questlove, Black Thought, and Nas.
-Written as a group, including Salvatore DiBenedetto, Joseph Jones, Joseph Padalino, Meredith Arout, Gregory Perosi, and others, edited by Edward Gregory using their content and PBS press materials.
Life-Wire News Service was on hand at Great Performances’ Hamilton’s America preview on October 17 at the United Palace in Washington Heights. Lawrence Oliveri interviewed the stars in the following video and Meredith Arout captured the red carpet event in photos below:
Photos: Meredith Arout for Life-Wire News Service.
Check out more about WNET’s Hamilton’s America preview at Washington Height’s United Palace Theatre here.
To use Great Performance’s Hamilton’s America in your classroom, check out the resource page on PBS Learning Media here.
Find out more about Ron Chernow’s book, Alexander Hamilton, that inspired the musical here, on Good Reads.
The unique relationship between Koko, a western lowland gorilla who can speak sign language, and Penny Patterson, the psychologist who taught her to sign, is revisited in-depth in a new PBS and BBC documentary called Koko − The Gorilla Who Talks, premiering Wednesday, August 3 at 8 p.m. (Check local listings.)
Koko is a female western lowland gorilla, born on July 4, 1971. The name Hanabi-Ko, meaning “Fireworks Child” in Japanese, was selected as the winner of the “name the baby gorilla” contest at the San Francisco Zoo where she was born. That is where she began working with Patterson, who moved Koko to Stanford, where she later set up the Gorilla Foundation.
Koko − The Gorilla Who Talks gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the unconventional life of the world’s most famous gorilla,” said Pamela A. Aguilar, Director of Programming and Development for PBS. “Through new footage and rarely seen photos and videos, the film reinvigorates our fascination with Koko and the relationship Penny first established between animals and humans more than 40 years ago.”
Koko is amazing. She listens. She knows what she wants. She is very lovable. She is very calm with Penny and she wants to learn so much.
If I was Koko, I would like to learn as much sign language as I could so I can impress people. According to Patterson, Koko learned over 1,000 signs.
Project Koko started as Patterson’s Ph.D. assignment to teach sign language to a baby gorilla. As Koko began to communicate with Penny, an intense bond forms between them. Over four decades, the teacher is transformed into a mother figure and student into a daughter figure. The public’s fascination with Koko made her a star.
The documentary captures some of the dramatic moments of Koko’s life including Penny’s battle to keep Koko from being reclaimed by the zoo where she was born, Penny’s clash with experts who doubt her success with Koko, the founding of The Gorilla Foundation, and the image of Koko mourning the death of her kitten – a moment that bought her international fame.
Finding a mate for Koko is one of the conflicts in the story. You could tell Koko would like to be a mother. She had kittens and she was very gentle with them. She loved the cats. One of them got run over by a car and she was very sad. She was as distraught as a human would be. A children’s book, “Koko’s Kitten” is written about the special bond and is published around the world.
The zoo wanted to take Koko back. They wanted her to have a boyfriend, but she had a difficult time mating with another gorilla.
I didn’t like the part when they said Penny had to give Koko back to the zoo because Koko loved Penny like a mother. They knew each other for years. If Penny didn’t care for Koko, she would not have dedicated her life to teaching her.
The whole controversy could be avoided if Koko could speak because then Koko could say what she wanted to do. Koko was misunderstood because some people are ignorant and don’t understand that animals have feelings just like a human does.
If Koko had been taken away, the project would have stopped and Koko probably would have gotten sad or depressed.
Including the controversies made this a better documentary. If they cut parts out it would not be good for the show. If they didn’t have a little sadness or difficulties, people wouldn’t watch because it wouldn’t be realistic.
In order to keep Koko, to provide shelter and other gorilla companions, Patterson began The Gorilla Foundation. It helps to continue Patterson’s research and teach people about gorillas so that they are appreciated. You can visit them on their Koko & The Gorilla Foundation Facebook page as well.
-By Joseph Padalino, with Kathryn Carse for Life-Wire News Service.
Watch the PBS preview:
And watch more clips here. at PBS.
Photos courtesy of (c) 2015 The Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org. Photo by Ron Cohn.
From Savannah to Seattle, PBS explores 10 Parks That Changed America, premiering Tuesday, April 12, 2016, 8:00 p.m. ET. A panel of viewers previewed the show and discussed which parks in Staten Island were influenced by the 10 green spaces featured in the program. Here are their thoughts:
- Colonial Squares in Savannah, GA – Veterans Park, Port Richmond
Veterans Park is resembles Savannah’s Colonial Squares because has town buildings around a public square. It is not as old as the colonial parks, but it is Staten Island’s oldest, built in 1836.
- Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, PA – Silver Lake Park, Silver Lake
Silver Lake is part of our water supply. Staten Island’s first New York City park, opened in 1917, with water from the Ashokan Reservoir in Ulster County, NY. Like Fairmount Park, water is pumped up hill to the park and it feeds the Island from there.
- Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA – Moravian Cemetery, New Dorp
You can walk around nature. It’s a good place to think about how the people buried in the cemetery are in a better place. You can get away from your sadness and enjoy the park, just like Mt. Auburn Cemetery.
- Central Park, New York, NY – Clove Lakes Park, Clove Lakes
Staten Islander Frederick Law Olmstead built both Central and Clove Lakes parks in the English landscape tradition where everybody could come together and enjoy views that open up like landscape paintings.
- Chicago Park System, Chicago, IL – Walker Park, Livingston
Walker Park is part of the New York City Parks and Recreation system. The park was previously home to the Staten Island Cricket and Tennis Association before it was transferred to the parks department. The field house is like the ones that originated in Chicago so people could enjoy the parks and activities all year round.
- Riverwalk, San Antonio, TX – The Bluebelt, various south shore wetlands
(Shown: Lemon Creek)
Like Texas’ Riverwalk, The Bluebelt helps keep flooding to a minimum. It is different from Riverwalk because it uses the natural environment helps redirect and absorb water away from homes.
- Overton Park, Memphis, TN – The Greenbelt, various contiguous mid-island green spaces
You can get away from the congestion of Staten Island. Like Overton Park, local activists saved the green spaces that became The Greenbelt from highway development.
- Freeway Park, Seattle, WA – Staten Island Expressway
There is no existing park to compare to Freeway Park in Seattle. There is an opportunity to build a park behind Petrides School in Todt Hill that would connect the Greenbelt to Clove Lakes Park. People of all abilities would be able to use the paths to get from the North Shore of Staten Island as far as Great Kills in a system of connected parks.
- Gas Works Park, Seattle, WA – Fresh Kills Park, Travis
Fresh Kills was a natural marsh and wetlands before it was turned into a landfill in 1948, ultimately becoming the world’s largest dump. With the remains of the World Trade Center, Fresh Kills is sacred ground. The new Fresh Kills Park has bicycle paths, a September 11 memorial, and even restored oyster beds.
- The High Line, New York, NY – The North Shore Branch
(Shown: Heritage Park, West New Brighton)
The North Shore Branch of the Staten Island Railroad ran from Arlington to St. George but is now abandoned. It could be made into a duel function park and rail system. If extended, it could connect to the old Nassau Smelting facility on Staten Island’s south shore, combining rails and trails together with views of the industrial waterfront and the harbor as part of the North Shore Waterfront Greenway.
-Written as a group, including Joseph Padalino, Steven Filoramo, Dolores Palermo, Meredith Arout, Gregory Perosi, Anthony DiFato, Jonathan Chernock, Andre Fitzgerald, and others, edited by Edward Gregory.
We learned about how to find fossils and about how the Titanosaur lived by watching Nature: Raising the Dinosaur Giant (Watch the trailer here, on Nature Online.), airing Wednesday, February 17, 8 p.m. ET (check local listings) on PBS. We enjoyed it! It was very enriching. Here are ten facts that we learned watching the program:
- Hearts of the largest Titanosaurs were about 6 feet tall and weighed about as much as three adult humans.
- By studying teeth the paleontologists were able to conclude Titanosaurs ate non-nutritious greens like conifers.
- Titanosaurs did not chew their food. They bit it off and swallowed pieces.
- The Titanosaur in the program lived in the Patagonia region of Argentina.
- 40 feet long, (the length of three school buses) the Titanosaurs had incredibly long and muscular necks and tails.
- Paleontologists use computers to animate how the Titanosaurs moved.
- Paleontologists use elephants’ anatomy to compare how Titanosaurs stood.
- Titanosaurs’ legs had more of an angle than that of elephants.
- Paleontologists used plaster and toilet paper to protect bones from weather conditions and to transport them safely.
- A major threat to the Titanosaur was the Tyrannotitan.
We would highly recommend this documentary! Hope you have a good time learning some facts about dinosaurs.
-Written as a group, including Joseph Padalino, Gregory Perosi, Anthony DiFato and others with Megan Welch and Edward Gregory.
The Life-Wire News Crew reviews Autism in Love, a film by Matt Fuller, airing January 11, 10-11:30 p.m. (ET) on PBS’ Independent Lens. (Check local listings.) Autism in Love follows the lives of individuals with autism as they navigate relationships.
Video Posted on Updated on
Can we love against the odds? is a question that anyone might ask. But the question becomes more complicated when autism enters the equation. This problem is explored in Independent Lens’ Autism in Love, premiering on PBS, Jan. 11, 10-11 p.m. (Eastern). Life-Wire News Service attended a screening sponsored by Thirteen/WNET at The Greenbelt Recreation Center on December 15th and posed questions about the film and about relationships where disabilities are present. The panel, hosted by Bill Lacurtis, Manager of the Greenbelt Recreation Center, included Scott Salinardi, COO of Lifestyles for the Disabled; Chris Marchionne, Executive Director of PCCS (Person Centered Care Services), Inc.; and Gina Piersanti Gioe, Program Director for AHRC Inc.‘s Programs Without Walls Intitative.