TV-PG | PBS | 2 hrs
Released in November of 2015

SUMMARY: While The Pilgrims won’t win any awards for being the most exciting documentary (this was directed by Ric Burns, the younger brother of Ken Burns), it excels at showing the context that caused the Pilgrims to make the radical decision to cross the Atlantic Ocean with little chance of surviving. In two hours, the film traces the Pilgrims’ reasons for leaving England and then Holland, the excruciating passage on the Mayflower, surviving in New England (and the context they arrived in), and how the Pilgrims established a foothold in the New World that changed the balance of power forever.

Peppered with oration of William Bradford‘s entries from Of Plymouth Plantation and interviews with historians, anthropologists, and other experts, the somber music along with the deliberate, slow editing makes the viewer consider what they have been taught about Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims juxtaposed with what they are learning about the two during the documentary.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of memory produced around the Pilgrims. But there’s also been a lot of forgetting,” says Berkeley professor Kathleen Donegan. “You know, that memory is very selective. And so to look at what’s been remembered, and let that shed light on what’s been forgotten is an important exercise when we’re thinking about something that has been so central to our national imagination.”

Many of the ideas, such as religious liberty for all or an annual day of Thanksgiving, that we force upon the Pilgrims they simply would not recognize. In addition, time has dulled the perilous decision of the Pilgrims to risk a voyage across the Atlantic and the fact that their early years in Plymouth, that were filled with profound loss and heart break, helped shape who they were. We also forget that the colonists that came over on the Mayflower and subsequent ships were a mix of Pilgrims and non-Pilgrims. Compromises had to be made to survive.

“They wanted to achieve the ultimate spiritual community on Earth — and that never happened,” author Nathaniel Philbrick says.

The poignant conclusion by Philibrick is a sobering reminder that the Pilgrim story and the story of Thanksgiving, has been mythologized throughout the years and it is our duty as Christians to faithfully tell the true historical account.

KEY QUOTES: “Somehow with the passage of time, the arrival of this frail unlikely band would come to be seen as the true founding moment of America — and the story of their coming enshrined as the quintessential myth of American origins: commemorated each year on the fourth Thursday in November at Thanksgiving — and embodied in a handful of iconic and instantly recognizable images — including a rock and a ship — and a feast that almost certainly never took place as we imagine it did.”

BONUS: The Pilgrims pairs nicely with The First Thanksgiving by Robert Tracy McKenzie.

DID YOU KNOW? We have a learning capsule about Thanksgiving with resources to help faithfully learn about the holiday.



Our latest curated shows and movies on Thanksgiving:

SHOW: The Invention of Thanksgiving

A short five minute, visually engaging video with National Museum of the American Indian curator Paul Chaat Smith discussing what Thanksgiving strives to be while briefly touching on the meal that took place in 1621. This video was part of the Americans exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian.

Read more

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