Last week PBS quietly released a documentary about the March on Washington entitled The March. Normally a quick and quiet release such as this means that the film is not good at all. However, for this documentary there must be a different story behind it. Considering they announced only a couple of weeks in advance that Denzel Washington would be narrating the documentary, it seems like this film came about rather quickly and PBS wanted to release it as quickly as possible to coincide with the anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech. More importantly, though, is that there are no signs of a rushed or subpar product while watching this documentary. The March is truly a documentary that can live up to the subject matter that it is about.
The March is a day by day account of how the March on Washington was organized and the many challenges the organizers faced in the lead up to the event. All of this is displayed with news clips from the era and interviews with eyewitnesses. The film is directed by John Akomfrah (a documentarian who mostly deals with projects that have African-Americans at the forefront).
The March is strikingly different from your normal PBS fare. The subject matter and the prestigious atmosphere feels right at home with PBS programming, but this is unlike a typical Ken Burns documentary (and it seems like PBS has adopted the Ken Burns model for almost all of its nonfiction films and miniseries). Instead this is a film that feels much more electric. It’s quickly paced and the day-by-day look into the lives of these people makes this film seem much more intimate than your typical Ken Burns’ documentary. There is nothing wrong with Ken Burns’ style but it is nice to see a change of pace every once in a while, and this documentary definitely gives you that.
As for Denzel Washington’s narration, it is nice to see a big name (and you don’t get much bigger than Washington) lend his talents to a TV production, but his work definitely takes a back seat to everything else that is going on. The film decides to rely on interviews with eyewitnesses for voiceovers much more often than it does Denzel Washington. That is probably for the best, but when Washington does get to narrate it is not in the least bit distracting and actually adds a bit to the film.
The March is one of the best TV programs of the year so far.