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National Geographic gives Civil War the genealogy treatment

Wide-Eyed Entertainment (WEE) is using a Who Do You Think You Are? style approach for its three-part National Geographic Channel series on the American Civil War, which airs tonight (April 11).
April 11, 2011

Wide-Eyed Entertainment (WEE) is using a Who Do You Think You Are? style approach for its three-part National Geographic Channel series on the American Civil War, which airs tonight (April 11).

Civil Warriors (pictured above) takes a fresh look at the conflict through the eyes of 11 Civil War descendants, and forms part of NGC’s programming marking the war’s 150th anniversary.

Talking to realscreen, WEE’s creative director David McNab said that Civil Warriors definitely has an element of Who Do You Think You Are? to it. “We take people on a journey to discover the lives of their ancestors, ordinary people who took part in the American Civil War,” he said.

Series producer Leonie Jameson and two assistant producers used genealogy websites to find descendents from the Civil War. “It was an amazingly tall order to find not only people who had fought in Civil War, but had brilliant interesting stories written down,” Jameson explained.

Another tall order was actually finding their descendants, especially those “willing to travel around the U.S. with a bunch of Brits who they’d never met before,” she added.

The team worked hard to represent a wide spectrum of those who took part in the Civil War, with men and women of all colors and creeds featured, and a common emphasis on ‘the ordinary person.’

“We wanted to do the people’s history of the Civil War, so we have privates, we have nurses, the first black soldiers, the story of a slave who escaped to freedom… and I think that way its quite a novel, fresh take on the Civil War,” Jameson says.

In addition to the ancestry angle, Civil Warriors has also adopted a very distinctive visual style. Rarely seen letters, journals and a huge library of old photographs from the Civil War are brought to life with a camera technique that gives the images depth and movement.

“That was the hook that got National Geographic interested,” said McNamb. “It’s as if there were moving cameras there at the time.”

McNab believes the series has a broad appeal. “It’s full of very interesting insights that you don’t normally get when you’re looking at the overview of battles and strategy. This is about how people survive day to day. This is very much the human detail of the war so it should appeal to everybody.”

BBC Worldwide has international distribution of the three-part series.

About The Author
Selina Chignall joins the realscreen team as a staff writer. Prior to working with rs, she covered lobbying activity at Hill Times Publishing. She also spent a year covering the Hill as a journalist with iPolitics. Her beat focused on youth, education, democratic reform, innovation and infrastructure. She holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from Western University and a Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto.

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