It's been quite a while since the Traveler mentioned the national parks documentary that Ken Burns was working on. So what's he been up to since then? Quite a lot, it turns out.
The project, destined to arrive on PBS in the fall of 2009, has taken the noted filmmaker to 53 of the 58 "national parks," consumed 797 rolls of film (at 400 feet per roll, no less), and involved more than 40 interviews with historians, writers and park supporters. Oh yeah, the team also had great response to the call for home movies and some of that footage received will be appearing in the sixth and final episode of the 12-hour series.
Also, the title of the film was tinkered with a bit since the project was first announced back in 2005. It's now officially called, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea."
That said, Mr. Burns' team prefers to call the documentary "a story of people: people from every conceivable background – rich and poor; famous and unknown; soldiers and scientists; natives and newcomers; idealists, artists and entrepreneurs; people who were willing to devote themselves to saving some precious portion of the land they loved, and in doing so reminded their fellow citizens of the full meaning of democracy. It is a story full of struggle and conflict, high ideals and crass opportunism, stirring adventure and enduring inspiration – set against the most breathtaking backdrops imaginable."
Here's more from the team:
The narrative traces the birth of the national park idea in the mid-1800s and follows its evolution for nearly 150 years. Using archival photographs, first-person accounts of historical characters, personal memories and analysis from more than 40 interviews, and what Burns believes is the most stunning cinematography in Florentine Films' history, the film chronicles the steady addition of new parks through the stories of the people who helped create them and save them from destruction. It is simultaneously a biography of compelling characters and a biography of the American landscape.
Like the idea of freedom itself, the national park idea has been constantly tested, constantly evolving, and inherently full of contradictory tensions: between individual rights and the community, the local and the national; between preservation and exploitation, the sacred and the profitable; between one generation's immediate desires and the next generation's legacy.
It has been called “America’s best idea,” and no activity of the federal government engenders such universal support and public loyalty, yet the story of how these special places became preserved as parks, the role of individual citizens in creating them, and the powerful stories of people's emotional connection to them remains relatively unknown.
Among those who lent their voices to the project were Peter Coyote, who provides the narration; Tom Hanks; Andy Garcia; Sam Waterston; Amy Madigan; Eli Wallach; Carolyn McCormick, and many others.
More trivia: The film includes more contemporary footage than any Burns film since the 1997 LEWIS & CLARK.