In the Age of AI, Frontline: Fire in Paradise, Nature: Nature’s Biggest Beasts, American Masters — Rothko: Pictures Must be Miraculous and Nova: Why Bridges Collapse are among the documentaries on DVD and digital from PBS Distribution this January.
A year after the devastating Camp Fire, who’s to blame and why was it so catastrophic? Fire in Paradise explores this question with accounts from survivors and first responders, telling the inside story of the most destructive fire in California history, its causes and the impact of climate change.
In the Age of AI, due Jan. 14, takes a journey into how this new technology will transform our world — and some of the ways it already has. It’s been called “The New Space Race.” This time it’s China taking on the United States, and the race is to seize control of a technology with the potential to change everything — the way we work; how we play; how our democracy functions; how the world could be realigned. “Frontline” explores some of the ways in which our world is being re-shaped and reimagined by the technology of artificial intelligence, whose development has been compared to the industrial revolution and the discovery of electricity as an epochal event in human history. The film traces the battle between the U.S. and China to harness its power, examining fears about what AI advances mean for the future of work and revealing how AI algorithms are ushering in an age of both great problem-solving potential and of new and troubling threats to privacy and democracy.
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Okavango: River of Dreams, explores the Okavango River in Southern Africa, an unlikely oasis and lush paradise in the middle of a hostile desert that supports and feeds an incredible abundance of wildlife. Unlike most rivers that flow toward the shores of a nearby ocean, it instead runs inland through Botswana, creating a huge river delta before finally disappearing into the Kalahari Desert. An all-star cast of charismatic African wildlife lives and dies in the timeless drama of survival revealed in the program.
Nature’s Biggest Beasts, due Jan. 14, covers the ingenious strategies that nature’s biggest beasts employ to conquer their environments, from the Komodo dragon with a deadly bite to the tallest giraffe to the bird-eating Armored ground cricket. Being massive can have its advantages, but it brings equally immense challenges to survive. Big bodies need more fuel, more space and can attract unwanted attention.
Bears, due Jan. 28, covers animals from the mighty grizzly bear to the endearing spectacled bear (the real-life “Paddington Bear”), from the bamboo-eating panda to the bizarre-looking sloth bear. Among the biggest land mammals on the planet, bears need a lot of resources to survive and must use all of their skills, brawn and brains to get what they need — whether they’re foraging for honeycombs or tasty plants, standing up to their rivals or raising cubs.
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Available now is Why Bridges Collapse, which experts compare what happened to the Morandi Bridge in Genoa, Italy, with other deadly bridge collapses, including Minnesota’s I-35W bridge over the Mississippi and the ill-fated Silver Bridge over the Ohio River. Thousands of bridges across the United States and Europe that are listed as structurally deficient. How can new technologies and engineering improvements make bridges across the world safer and more durable than ever before?
Look Who’s Driving, coming Jan. 14, explores autonomous vehicles, which are now being tested on public roads around the world. Dozens of startups have sprung up alongside established auto and tech giants — which are also testing the waters — to form what many hope will be a transformative new industry. But as innovators rush to cash in on what they see as the next high-tech pot of gold, some experts warn there are still daunting challenges to overcome — like how to train computers to make life-and-death decisions as well as humans can. “Nova” peers under the hood of the autonomous vehicle industry to investigate how driverless cars work, how they may change the way we live, and whether we will ever be able to entrust them with our lives.
Rise of the Mammals, due Jan. 21, explores how the course of life on Earth changed radically on a single day 66 million years ago. Blasting our planet, an asteroid caused the extinction of three of every four kinds of living things. The impact ended the Age of Dinosaurs and launched our age, the Age of Mammals. But our understanding of the asteroid’s aftermath has been spotty. Who survived? How quickly did mammals and their habitats spring back? How did our planet recover from this global cataclysm? Now a remarkable find — a trove of exceptionally preserved fossils from the critical first million years after the catastrophe — shines a revelatory light on what followed Earth’s darkest hour. With exclusive access, viewers see the discovery from the first moments of the initial find in 2016. Providing a rare record that combines plants, animals, and precise dates, the discovery paints a vivid portrait of the emergence of a brand-new world.
Dead Sea Scroll Detectives, coming Jan. 21, explores one of the greatest archaeological finds of all time — the Dead Sea Scrolls — was made by a Bedouin shepherd boy in 1947. Since the 2,000-year-old scrolls were first taken from a cave, they’ve intrigued scholars, religious leaders and profiteers alike. These fragile parchment relics include the oldest known versions of the Hebrew Bible and hold vital clues about the birth of Christianity. While some scrolls have survived intact, others have been ravaged by time — burnt, decayed, or torn to pieces — and remain an enigma. Now, scientists are using new technologies to read the unreadable, solve mysteries that have endured for millennia, and even discover million-dollar fakes.
Rothko: Pictures Must be Miraculous is a portrait of one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Mark Rothko, whose luminous canvasses now set records at international auctions. Rothko’s signature style helped define Abstract Expressionism, the movement that shifted the center of the art world from Paris to New York. Interviews with Rothko’s children, Kate and Christopher, as well as leading curators, art historians and conservators present a comprehensive look at the artist’s life and career, complemented by scenes with Alfred Molina in the role of Rothko. Molina performs segments from Rothko’s writings, and the documentary features clips from the six-time Tony-winning play Red.