PBS’ ‘Native America’ Is This Year’s — And One Of PBS’ — Best New Docs

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution

This critic has said time and again, that movies “based on actual events” are not the way to learn about history.  That is because it is clear with said movies, there are any number of overly embellished stories.  That being the case, this critic prefers to learn about history through the bevy of more trustworthy documentaries turned out annually by PBS and other relatively reliable resources.

The noted outlets have released yet again this year, quite the impressive crop of new documentaries.  From stories of  the evolution of the American circus,  the role of jazz in the Cold War and the role of Native Americans and their ancestors to today’s world to profiles of American legends, such as Teddy Roosevelt, Bob Hope and Fred Rogers and more, this year’s crop of new documentaries has given audiences plenty of stories that are just as good as — if not better than — any of those stories “based on actual events” churned out by Hollywood.

Topping this year’s list of new notable documentaries is the simply-titled Native America.  This four-part doc is the presentation that Native Americans have deserved and needed for ages.  It clearly outlines how their advancements have played a critical part in  America’s own development while also outlining in depth, the atrocities committed against Native Americans.  The pairing of the positive from their contributions and the negative of the damning story of how they were so horribly mistreated makes for a powerful program that everyone should see at least once.

Coming in second in this year’s list of the year’s best new documentaries is NOVA: The Impossible Flight.  The story at the center of this doc follows the round-the-world flight of a famed solar plane, and is just as gripping as any Hollywood drama that could ever be churned out — again — if not more gripping.  Audiences will be on the edge of their seats to see if the plane completes its journey.

Third Place belongs to American Experience: Into The Amazon.  The story at the center of this doc is another Hollywood-ready story that thankfully Hollywood has not yet ruined.  It follows Teddy Roosevelt as he journeys into one of the world’s most dangerous realms, the Amazon jungle.  It is revealed that the journey comes after his defeat for the presidency in his final run for the White House.  It is a gripping dual “man vs. nature”/”man vs himself” story that history buffs and action movie fans alike will appreciate.

Along with the titles noted here, this year’s list also features other new docs, such as a look back at Hannibal’s legendary trek over the Alps, a profile of the Jews who joined America’s military and played a critical part in the Allies’ victory in WWII and a touching profile of a blind magician who refuses to let his disability stop him along with the previously noted docs.

As always, the top 10 titles are the best of the year, while the five that follow are honorable mention titles.  Without any further ado, here is  Phil’s Picks 2018 Top 10 New Documentaries.


  1. Native America
  2. NOVAThe Impossible Flight
  3. American ExperienceInto The Amazon
  4. American ExperienceThe Circus
  5. Dealt
  6. Line 41
  7. American MastersThis is Bob Hope
  8. G.I. Jews
  9. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
  10. Mr. Rogers: It’s You I Like
  11. Secrets of the DeadHannibal in the Alps
  12. The Jazz Ambassadors
  13. NOVADecoding The Weather Machine
  14. American ExperienceThe Secret of Tuxedo Park
  15. The Paris Opera

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‘NOVA: The Impossible Flight’ Is A “Soaring” Success

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution

Nothing in life is impossible.  Nothing.  The Wright Brothers proved that true on December 17, 1903 when the brothers from Ohio launched the first powered airplane.  Charles Lindbergh proved it true again when, in May 1927, he completed the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight.  When Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947, he proved it once again, and in 1969 when Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon, he also proved that statement true.  The stories go on and on from there, from the maiden flight of the Concord and more.  The Solar Impulse became just the latest story to prove nothing is impossible when it completed the first round-the-world flight powered only by solar power in March 2016. Thanks to PBS, the story of that grand journey has finally been told in the form of NOVA: The Impossible Flight.  Originally aired on January 31, 2018 and released April 10, 2018, this two-hour human drama is just as good as any blockbuster that Hollywood’s “Big Six” could ever turn out.  As a matter of fact, one hopes that no one at the “Big Six” will ever try to tarnish the legacy of this flight with some unnecessary overly embellished re-telling.  Getting back on track, this story is one that any and every aviation enthusiast and history lover must see.  Period.  That is due obviously first and foremost to the story at the center of this episode of NOVA.  It will be discussed shortly.  In direct relation, the story’s pacing is just as pivotal to the program’s presentation.  It will be discussed later.  The cinematography rounds out its most important elements.  Each element is obviously important in itself to the program’s whole.  All things considered, NOVA: The Impossible Flight could *ahem* possibly be the best documentary to be released so far this year if not one of the year’s best.

PBS’ new powerful aviation documentary NOVA: The Impossible Flight is “possibly” the best of this year’s new documentaries at the most and definitely one of the year’s best at the very least. That is due in part to its story, which is such a gripping human drama.  The story at the center of this two-hour follows the flight of the Solar Impulse and everyone working to make the dream come true.  The global journey was anything but perfect, too.  From constant false alarms keeping the plane’s pilots – Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard (whose grandfather apparently was the inspiration for the one and only Capt. Jean Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation) – awake, to differences among the ground crew at a critical juncture to weather causing setbacks and more, the flight had plenty of ups and downs.  It is those constant ups and downs that insure viewers’ maintained engagement.  That is because they create the same kind and level of human drama that one might get, again, from any major Hollywood blockbuster based on actual events and overloaded with unnecessary embellishments.  Luckily none of those unnecessary embellishments are included here.  Instead, the story told here is exactly what happened, again making it engaging in itself.  In other words, it’s a drama that could and did happen, giving audiences plenty of reason to watch.  It is just one of the elements that makes this doc so worth seeing.  Its pacing, in direct connection, does just as much to make it worth the watch.

Considering everything that happens over the course of The Impossible Flight’s story, one of the main concerns that would rise in any viewer’s mind is the story’s pacing.  That’s because of how easy it would be for the story to get bogged down in itself.  Luckily that didn’t happen here.  From the moment the plane launched from Abu Dhabi in 2015 to the moment that it touched back down in March 2016, the story’s pacing is solid throughout.  Even in the moments when the plane is on the ground, itself and its pilots resting up from the current and preparing for the next leg, there is just enough drama to keep the story moving.  At the same time it isn’t so much that the story gets bogged down in itself.  Those long hours and days that Piccard and Borschberg spend piloting Solar Impulse present their own interest keeping the story moving just as much.  That is because those moments take viewers back and forth between the plane’s cockpit and ground control, where a multi-member team of engineers and meteorologists, keeps track of weather patterns, the pilots and the plane all at the same time.  Between those moments, the moments in the plane and the hours between each leg, the story keeps itself moving solidly, never going too slow or leaving viewers behind.  Keeping that in mind, it should be clear why the movie’s pacing is so important to its presentation.  It never moves too slow or too fast at any given point, and that’s even keeping in mind all that happens throughout.  Having noted this, the story’s pacing is clearly important in its own right to the doc.  It still is not the last of the movie’s most important elements.  Its cinematography is also important to discuss.

The cinematography presented throughout this program is a purely aesthetic element, but it adds so much to the overall experience.  Audiences will be in awe as other pilots circle the Solar Impulse along the way.  The wide shots do so much to illustrate just how small the plane is in comparison to its surroundings, making for their own impact.  The aerial shots captured from cameras attached to Solar Impulse’s wings are just as powerful, as are the cockpit shots, which fully illustrate how tight the confines were for the pilots.  Those shots add even more to the story’s emotional impact.  In the same breath, those moments with Piccard sticks his arm out of the cockpit to capture “selfies” with one of those so-called “selfie-sticks” are dizzying.  Oddly enough, that dizzying nature of those shots are powerful in their own right, too.  Even moments like then Piccard’s wife reaches out to greet him at the voyage’s end and when locals around the world greet the plane at its landing offer their own power.  Between all of these moments and so many others, the cinematography presented throughout the program offers just as much to appreciate here just as much as the story itself and its pacing.  When all three elements are joined together, they make The Impossible Flight a program that not only proves nothing is impossible, but in turn, becomes possibly the year’s best new documentary feature.  It is just as good, if not better, than anything that Hollywood’s “Big Six” could ever turn out.  It is that powerfully engaging and entertaining.

PBS’ NOVA: The Impossible Flight is one of this year’s best new documentary features if not one of the year’s best.  Yes, that order was intentional.  It is that powerful of a presentation.  That is due in part to the story at the center of the program.  It is a story that is just as good as any major Hollywood blockbuster drama that has ever been crafted, based on actual events.  Thankfully Hollywood hasn’t come for this one yet, and hopefully won’t for the foreseeable future.  Getting back on track, the story’s pacing plays just as much of a part in the doc’s presentation as the story.  It does just as much to keep viewers engaged as the story itself.  That’s because it never moves too fast or slow at any one point.  The cinematography puts the finishing touch on the doc’s presentation.  That’s because it is just as enthralling as the story itself.  Each element is obviously important in its own right to the whole of NOVA: The Impossible Flight.  All things considered, they make this documentary one of the best that PBS has put out and more proof of why PBS remains today, the last bastion of truly worthwhile programming on television.  It is “possibly” the year’s best new documentary feature, and it is available now.  More information on this and other episode of NOVA is available online now at:




Website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/NOVApbs

Twitter: http://twitter.com/novapbs




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