Set Your DVRs…

25 09 2009


So there’s this big thing happening over at PBS this weekend, and all next week.  What is it, you ask?  Drumroll, please…

The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, a documentary from filmmaker Ken Burns, will air in a six part series premiering on PBS on Sunday, September 27, 2009.

I’m pretty excited about it, and hope it lives up to all the hype.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ken Burns, he is a documentary director and producer who became famous with his eleven-hour 1990 documentary entitled “The Civil War.”  He’s made many many other films (about “Baseball” and “Jazz” and “The Brooklyn Bridge” to name a few), and has won more than half a dozen Emmy Awards.

He’s also responsible for the “Ken Burns Effect” on your iPhoto application — you know, that thing were the camera zooms around the photo rather than just displaying it in one place — because his documentaries often rely on still photographs.

Now, this documentary has six episodes, which will air on six consecutive nights beginning on Sunday (and finishing up on Friday, for those of you who can’t count very well):

  1. Scriptures of Nature (1851-1890)
  2. The Last Refuge (1890-1915)
  3. The Empire of Grandeur (1915-1919)
  4. Going Home (1920-1933)
  5. Great Nature (1933-1945)
  6. The Morning of Creation (1946-1980)

It promises to be filled with beautiful shots of the parks, stories about Teddy Roosevelt, and the history of the founding, preservation, and enjoyment of the parks.

When asked in an interview why he chose National Parks as a subject for a documentary, Burns said:

“Our European ancestors essentially lived a geographically proscribed life, rarely venturing beyond where they were, and all of a sudden, the combination of land and democracy set in motion one hell of a great story.  We think the best one of all is the story of how a fledgling democracy suddenly decided you could set aside large tracts of natural land, not for the kings and royalty and the very rich who had normally cornered the market on beautiful places, but for everybody for all time….”¹

by joanarc4

Hoodoos. (by joanarc4)

If you have ever set foot in Yellowstone, or ventured into the Grand Canyon, or seen the sun rise over Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos, or camped in Acadia, or seen grizzlies in Glacier, or wondered at the blue haze in the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll understand where Burns’ enthusiasm comes from.

It also makes sense that the National Park Conservation Association is hyping the heck out of this premiere, with a party in Central Park, NYC, on Wednesday night, and even offering Party Kits if you want to host a viewing party.  In this age, where government spending is highly scrutinized and our own pockets grow increasingly shallow, it can be easy to dismiss the work the National Park Service does as inessential.  Faced with a raging debates on health care reform, bailouts, cash for cars, and shortfalls in education, a little bit of wilderness seems like it should just take care of itself.  I am hoping that this documentary showcases the rich history behind the parks, and the work that the National Park Service does to not only to maintain and preserve them but also to make them accessible through tours, educational programs, and events.  I am hoping that the documentary serves as a reminder that these spaces are worth supporting.

…if for no other reason than the fact that I personally want to keep enjoying them — and inspire you to explore them too.

National Public Lands Day is tomorrow, September 26.  Admission to National Parks (and many other sites) is free!

FN1: Kirkwood, Scott.  “National Parks: The Film; Ken Burns Focuses His Lens On America’s Best Idea.”  National Parks Magazine Spring 2009. National Parks Conservation Assocation.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.