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"American Experience" Panama Canal (2011)

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American Experience: Season 23: Episode 4 -- From PBS and American Experience - On August 15th, 1914, the Panama Canal opened, connecting the world's two largest oceans and signaling America's emergence as a global superpower.


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Original Air Date:
24 January 2011 (Season 23, Episode 4)
From PBS and American Experience - On August 15th, 1914, the Panama Canal opened, connecting the world's two largest oceans and signaling America's emergence as a global superpower. | Add synopsis »
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User Reviews:
"A Ship Climbing a Mountain" See more (3 total) »


 (Episode Cast)

Josh Hamilton ... (voice)
Stephen Ives ... Himself - Director
Walter LaFeber ... Himself - Historian

Carolyn McCormick ... (voice)

Michael Murphy ... Himself - Narrator

Theodore Roosevelt ... Himself (archive footage)

Episode Crew
Directed by
Stephen Ives 
Writing credits
(in alphabetical order)
Michelle Ferrari 
Paul Taylor 

Produced by
Susan Bellows .... series producer
Sharon Grimberg .... executive producer
Lindsey Megrue .... coordinating producer
Susan Mottau .... coordinating producer
Amanda Pollak .... producer
Mark Samels .... executive producer
Original Music by
Peter Rundquist 
Cinematography by
Andrew Young 
Film Editing by
George O'Donnell 
Production Management
Vanessa Ezersky .... post-production manager
Glenn Fukushima .... post-production manager
Greg Shea .... post-production manager
Nancy Sherman .... production manager
Art Department
Alison Kennedy .... designer
Sound Department
Dan Fulton .... assistant sound editor
Marlena Grzaslewicz .... dialogue editor
Matt Gundy .... sound re-recording mixer
John Jenkins .... sound mixer
Ira Spiegel .... sound designer
J.T. Takagi .... sound recordist
John Zecca .... sound recordist
Camera and Electrical Department
Daniel Choy Boyar .... electrician
Daniel Choy Boyar .... grip
Rafael de la Uz .... additional cinematographer
Peter Nelson .... additional cinematographer
Buddy Squires .... additional cinematographer
Animation Department
Paul Docherty .... stills animator
Gina Tolentino .... stills animator
Editorial Department
Lauren DeFilippo .... associate editor
David Gauff .... conforming editor
Spencer Gentry .... on-line editor
Paul Taylor .... senior editor
Gina Tolentino .... assistant editor
Jane Tolmachyov .... colorist
Music Department
Joel Goodman .... composer: theme music
Joel Goodman .... musician
Other crew
Daniel Amigone .... production associate
Samantha Chan .... office production assistant
Emily Chapman .... office production assistant
Victor Chen .... production assistant
Joy Conley .... researcher
Julie Cresswell .... researcher
Julia DeWahl .... office production assistant
James E. Dunford .... series manager
Susana Fernandes .... project administration
Jay Fialkov .... legal
Janice Flood .... legal
Pamela Gaudiano .... project administration
Andrew Hall .... production controller
Merrell Hambleton .... office production assistant
Morgan Hartley .... office production assistant
Molly Jacobs .... production assistant
Maureen Jordan .... legal
Scott Kardel .... legal
James Kendrick .... legal service
Samantha M. Knowles .... office production assistant
Stephanie Morales .... office production assistant
Anel E. Moreno .... fixer (as Anel Moreno)
Anel E. Moreno .... location scout (as Anel Moreno)
Marlene Q. Moura .... office production assistant
Matthew Parker .... consultant
Lauren Prestileo .... publicist
Sarah Rentz .... researcher
Tory Starr .... production assistant
John T. Sughrue .... director: Insignia Films
Ed Weisel .... production accountant
Tim Werenko .... project manager
Robert A. Wilson .... director: Insignia Films
Patricia Yusah .... project administration
Teresa Arosemena .... special thanks
Maria Beatriz Barletta .... special thanks
Helen R. DuBois .... special thanks
Van Hardeveld .... special thanks
Bill McLaughlin .... special thanks
Elizabeth Neily .... special thanks
Ginny Porrata .... special thanks

Series Crew
These people are regular crew members. Were they in this episode?
Writing credits
(in alphabetical order)
Stephen Fitzmeyer  developer
Henry Hampton  creator

Production CompaniesDistributors

Additional Details

USA:84 min (original version)
Aspect Ratio:
1.78 : 1 See more »
Sound Mix:


Who narrated this episode? (Panama Canal)
See more »
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful.
"A Ship Climbing a Mountain", 18 January 2014
Author: Goingbegging from United Kingdom

How maps deceive. That little twist of land at the isthmus - how easy it must be to snip through it and link the world's two great oceans, as every sea-captain for centuries would have reflected.

No doubt that was in the mind of the great De Lesseps, raised to divine status after building the Suez Canal and changing the world. But he soon learned different, as the sheer impossibility of the steep, rocky terrain began to assert itself, compounded by fire, flood, corruption and yellow fever. The humiliation broke him, even killed him.

Next came, not a God, but a mere politician, Theodore Roosevelt, bestriding the new century, a time of great scientific arrogance. After backing a revolution that made Panama independent of Colombia, he was rewarded with the Canal Zone, which was nothing less than an American colony. Now work could begin, and TR instantly demanded "Make dirt fly!" - an idiotic howl (as it was called) that echoed around the great rock-faces, but turned out to be a rash mistake. Many fresh starts had to be made, especially when they realised that a sea-level canal would be flooded for half the year.

But their solution astonished everyone who set eyes on it - a system of giant locks, three times deeper than any built before, looking like a flight of steps up the mountainside, and then the same again at the other end. If necessity is the mother of invention, then this project stimulated all manner of advances, from lifting-gear that could move long sections of rail track, whole and complete, to new insecticides for those pestilential mosquitos.

You cannot sneer at the effort that made all this possible, much of it generated by TR himself, able to raise morale almost single-handed, even as he brought in strike-breakers and forced his black semi-slaves to work in temperatures of 120 degrees, often buried alive in landslides under that relentless rain. ("The mountain fought back" said a superstitious local.) Deaths were so frequent that it was found necessary to build a special railroad to the cemetery. When the first ship finally passed through, it was August 1914 - a date that would ironically end that brand of triumphalism for ever.

As one programme in a long series, the treatment is conventional but good of its kind, with well-informed commentators, interspersed with fascinating vintage clips of old West Indians remembering the great adventure with a mix of pride and sadness. The only effect that doesn't quite come off is the Greek-chorus role of the only employee to stay for the full ten years of the project. Nothing is said of his job-function (unless I sneezed at that moment). Only his family and social life is featured. But even that reveals much about the conditions of the white workers, incidentally paid in gold, while the blacks were paid in silver.

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