The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, a
New Film From Ken Burns
Friday, September 11th, 2009
It’s an idea as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence and just as radical: that the most special places in the nation should be preserved, not for royalty or the rich, but for everyone. But even with 58 national parks and 333 national monuments, historic sites and other units across 49 of our 50 states, 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. Until now.
Best Idea, a new film from Ken Burns, explores the history and splendor of, and the public passion for, America’s national parks.
Premiering September 27 through October 2 at 7 p.m. on WTVP, the 12-hour, six-part documentary series is directed by celebrated filmmaker Ken Burns and co-produced with his longtime colleague, Dayton
Duncan, who also wrote the script. Each episode will be encored the same evening immediately following its debut, and
the series will also be available on our WTVP World Channel, Digital 47.2.
Filmed over the course of more than six years in some of nature’s most spectacular locales — from Acadia to Yosemite, Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, the Everglades of Florida to the Gates of the Arctic in Alaska — the documentary is nonetheless a story of 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.
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 and the most contemporary footage of any Ken Burns film since LEWIS AND CLARK, the series 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 of the American landscape.
Like the idea of freedom itself, the national park idea has been constantly tested, is constantly evolving and is 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.