BOSTON (PBS PR) — American Experience today announced Chasing the Moon, a four-hour documentary series about the space race, from its earliest beginnings to the monumental achievement of the first lunar landing in 1969 and beyond. Premiering on PBS in 2019 during the 50th anniversary year of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the series is executive produced by Mark Samels and produced and directed by Robert Stone. Chasing the Moon is Stone’s eighth project for American Experience. Distribution outside the U.S. will be handled by PBS International. Ballantine Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, will publish the book Chasing the Moon, by Stone and writer/researcher Alan Andres, to coincide with the PBS premiere. The book will include and expand on the stories shared in the documentary.
Chasing the Moon thoroughly reimagines the race to the moon for a new generation, upending much of the conventional mythology surrounding the effort. The four-part series recasts the Space Age as a fascinating stew of scientific innovation, political calculation, media spectacle, visionary impulses and personal drama. Utilizing a visual feast of previously overlooked and lost archival material, much of which has never before been seen by the public, the film features a diverse cast of characters who played key roles in these historic events. Among those included are astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Frank Borman and Bill Anders; Sergei Khrushchev, son of the former Soviet premier and a leading Soviet rocket engineer; Poppy Northcutt, a 25-year old “mathematics whiz” who gained worldwide attention as the first woman to serve in the all-male bastion of NASA’s Mission Control; and Ed Dwight, the Air Force pilot selected by the Kennedy administration to train as America’s first black astronaut.
“When we think of that breathtaking moment of the 1969 moon landing, we forget what a turbulent time that was,” said Mark Samels, American Experience executive producer. “The country was dealing with huge problems — Vietnam, poverty, race riots — and there was a lot of skepticism about the space program. Chasing the Moon explores the unbelievably complex challenges that NASA was able to overcome. Not a week goes by when someone doesn’t say, ‘Why can’t we do something today as ambitious, as grand as putting a man on the moon?’ It was a century-defining achievement, and our film tells a familiar story in an entirely new way.”
“American Experience continues to create compelling and powerful miniseries that tell the story of our nation and remind us of who we are,” said Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, General Audience Programming, PBS. “From ‘The Great War’ to ‘JFK’ to ‘Disney,’ these high-quality programs are embraced by PBS viewers and live on as top-drawer entertainment and a valuable resource for future generations.”
“I’m thrilled to be working again with American Experience and PBS on this project which is so close to my heart,” said Stone. “This film has been gestating in the back of my mind for over 25 years. It is by far the biggest project I’ve ever done.”
Robert Stone is a multi-award-winning, Oscar-nominated and Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker. Born in England, he grew up in both Europe and America. After graduating with a degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he moved to New York City in 1983 to pursue a career in filmmaking. He gained considerable recognition for his first film, Radio Bikini (1987), which premiered at Sundance, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary and was the first of his seven films to premiere on American Experience. His best-known work includes Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (2004), which premiered at Sundance and went on to become one of the most highly acclaimed theatrical documentaries of the year. That was followed by the documentary feature Oswald’s Ghost (2007), for which Stone earned a second Emmy nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Non-Fiction Filmmaking. Earth Days premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and was released theatrically to wide critical acclaim. His most recent film, Pandora’s Promise, premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, won the prestigious Green Award at the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival, and was broadcast on CNN in 2013. In addition to Radio Bikini, Guerrilla, Oswald’s Ghost and Earth Days, Stone also produced The Satellite Sky, Civilian Conservation Corps and Cold War Roadshow for American Experience.
As executive producer of PBS’ flagship history series, Mark Samels conceives, commissions and oversees all American Experience films. Samels has overseen more than 130 films, expanding both the breadth of subjects and the filmmaking style embraced by the series, allowing for more contemporary topics and more witness-driven storytelling. Beginning his career as an independent documentary filmmaker, he held production executive positions at public television stations in West Virginia and Pennsylvania before joining WGBH. Samels is a founding member of the International Documentary Association and has served as a governor of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Samels holds honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees from Emerson College and Elizabethtown College.
About American Experience
For more than 28 years, American Experience has been television’s most-watched history series. The series has been hailed as “peerless” (The Wall Street Journal), “the most consistently enriching program on television” (Chicago Tribune) and “a beacon of intelligence and purpose” (Houston Chronicle). On air and online, the series brings to life the incredible characters and epic stories that have shaped America’s past and present. Acclaimed by viewers and critics alike, American Experience documentaries have been honored with every major broadcast award, including 30 Emmy Awards, four duPont-Columbia Awards and 17 George Foster Peabody Awards; the series received an Academy Award® nomination for Best Documentary Feature in 2015 for Last Days in Vietnam. Visit pbs.org/americanexperience and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to learn more.
Exclusive corporate funding for American Experience provided by Liberty Mutual Insurance. Major funding provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and public television viewers. American Experience is produced for PBS by WGBH Boston.
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