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INDEPENDENT LENS: Facing The Storm: Story Of The American Bison

Airs Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 10:30 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Bison cow and two calves, Yellowstone National Park.

"Facing The Storm: Story Of The American Bison" is the far-reaching and complex history of human relations with the largest land mammal in North America. One of the most enduring and iconic images of the West — once numbering in the millions — bison have been reduced to a few pockets of remnant populations, and the land “where the buffalo roam” no longer exists.

Black and white photo of Plains Indian with bison skull and prayer pipe.
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Above: Black and white photo of Plains Indian with bison skull and prayer pipe.

Photo of a collection of bison heads killed from the Kansas Pacific Railway.
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Above: Photo of a collection of bison heads killed from the Kansas Pacific Railway.

Bison in winter storm by a Yellowstone National Park sign.
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Above: Bison in winter storm by a Yellowstone National Park sign.

Photo, circa 1905, of a bison in a capturing facility in Yellowstone National Park.
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Above: Photo, circa 1905, of a bison in a capturing facility in Yellowstone National Park.

Confronting the chasm between the myth and the reality of the American West, "Facing The Storm" introduces viewers to the rich sweep of human sustenance, exploitation, conservation, and spiritual relations with the ultimate symbol of wild America.

In a post- Manifest Destiny culture that has repeatedly brought the species to near-extinction, the film asks: Can we let bison be bison? Or are they destined to “range” only in zoos or ranches as a reminder of the once-wild West?

Featuring rare archival images, original animation, and stunning wildlife photography of these magnificent animals, this film is hosted by Mary Louise Parker. This story is told through the voices of its three main characters: the American bison, the Americans who understand and care about them, and the landscape they both inhabit: the American West.

The film reveals the bison’s behavior — in and out of their natural habitat, and in relationship to one another and to humans — helping us to understand and care about the life of this symbolic giant. Called “Faces the Storm” by Native Americans, bison were observed to turn and walk into snowstorms in order to get through them faster.

And while the bison can’t speak for themselves, their story is told by their modern-day heroes: Native Americans, biologists, ranchers and bison advocates who are collaborating in a visionary effort to re-establish bison in their native habitat.

Finally, the omnipresent character of the American West — real and mythical — the landscape in which the story unfolds, adds its own distinctive voice to the struggle for survival and ecological balance that continues to this day.

America is at a critical crossroads in its relationship with the bison. What we decide in terms of the animal’s future may hold the answer to many of the other critical resource decisions that must be made about preserving the American West.

Independent Lens is on Facebook, and you can follow @IndependentLens on Twitter.

Video

Trailer: Independent Lens: Facing The Storm: Story Of The American Bison

Your browser does not support this object. Content can be viewed at actual source page: http://video.kpbs.org/video/2207628386

Watch Is There Room for the American Bison in America Anymore? on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.

Above: From the first Americans who relied on bison for food, shelter and clothing to modern wildlife conservationists who are struggling to re-establish a place for bison in the Great Plains, this program introduces viewers to a rich history of human sustenance, exploitation, conservation and spiritual relations with the ultimate icon of wild America.

Video

Video Excerpt: Facing The Storm: Story Of The American Bison

Your browser does not support this object. Content can be viewed at actual source page: http://video.kpbs.org/video/2207904212

Watch Nearing Extinction, the Buffalo Was Hunted for Posterity on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.

Video

Extra: White Buffalo Ceremony: "Big Medicine"

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Watch Remembering Big Medicine on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.