Documentary Producer, Writer, Director
2006 Alumni Achievement Award Winner
An astronomer's struggle to reconcile his own discoveries with his religion in
"Galileo's Battle for the Heavens." A 1945 raid to free American POWs in "The
Batann Rescue." The impact of music on the American experience in "The
History of Rock and Roll."
Emmy Award winner David Axelrod '67, credits his liberal arts education for giving him the diverse experiences that have led to his success as a documentary producer, writer, and director. "I was an English major, but Knox's liberal arts curriculum encouraged my curiosity and allowed me to study a little history, learn a little math, throw a few clay pots, and even butcher some Shakespeare in Harbach Theatre. Making TV documentaries is a great job for a dilettante. You get to be an instant expert in lots of subjects."
Much of Alexrod's work reflects his interest in the history of science and technology, such as an episode of the PBS science series, "Lost at Sea: The Search for Longitude," which examines how a nearly illiterate clockmaker took on the eighteenth-century scientific establishment and solved the most vexing problem of navigating at sea. Axelrod received the Writers Guild Award, the International Documentary Association Award, the New York Festival Award, the Prix Leonardo, and the Telescience Award for this work. The Toronto Globe & Mail claimed that "the show's ability to take challenging scientific thought and turn it into a dramatic story about one man's quest" was its greatest strength.
"The Wright Brothers' Flying Machine," produced, directed, and co-written by Axelrod, explores how, despite the technological advances in the modern world, the technology used by the Wright brothers remains impressive and inspiring. Both it and the 1995 PBS program "American Experience: The History of Rock & Roll" earned Axelrod Emmy nominations. However, it was the NOVA program, "Galileo's Battle for the Heavens," which looks at the Italian astronomer's struggle to reconcile his own discoveries with his religion, that finally earned him an Emmy Award for Outstanding Historical Programming-Long Form in 2003.
The International Documentary Association recognized Axelrod's work with an award in 1999 for "The Batann Rescue," a film based on the daring 1945 raid to free American POWs in the prison camp of Japanese-occupied Phillippines. One of his more recent projects involved developing a four-part series for NOVA based on Dava Sobel's new book, The Planets.
Axelrod says that making documentaries allows him to continue the dabbling he enjoyed at Knox. "There is seldom a day in my work when I don't use the skills of research or criticism or composition that I learned at Knox."