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New Documentary Explores History of America's National Parks


New Documentary Explores History of America's National Parks

New Documentary Explores History of America's National Parks

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In 1872, the U.S. Congress established Yellowstone National Park as the first land reserved by a government to be relatively free of human development and pollution. Through the years, the U.S. National Park system has grown to include 58 national parks and scores of other special areas set aside for their natural beauty, wildlife and historical significance.

Attempting an overview of these unique areas around the country, award-winning documentary producer Ken Burns has created a 12-hour film - The National Parks: America's Best Idea. Divided into a six-part series, the film premiered 27 September on the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service. Known for taking on complicated projects and re-telling stories of historical significance, Burns homage to the nation's park is a love affair not only with the land they represent, but with the concept they represent.

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"For the first time in human history, land was set aside not for kings, or noblemen, or the very rich, but for everyone and for all time," said Burns. "We invented it, it is an utterly democratic idea. In fact, we think of the parks as a 'declaration of independence' applied to the landscape. As such, it follows in the tradition of Burns' exploration of other American inventions, such as baseball and jazz.

Taking 12 years to develop, including six years of filming, the documentary depicts some of nature's most spectacular locations. From Acadia in Maine, where the sun first rises on American soil, to Hawaii's volcanoes, Yosemite in California, Yellowstone in Montana, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the Everglades of Florida to the Gates of the Arctic in Alaska, Burns said the discovery of these lands by early explorers was a spiritual experience. "This is where you can find God," said Burns.

The documentary is also a story of people, rich and poor, famous and unknown, soldiers and scientists, natives and newcomers, idealists, artists and entrepreneurs who were willing to devote themselves to saving a portion of the land they loved. In doing so, said Burns, they remind their fellow citizens of the full meaning of democracy.

Like many of his previous documentaries about the American Civil War, or the impact of World War II on the lives of Americans, he expects this series to find wide appeal among viewers worldwide. "While our idea of national parks has now been copied by more than 200 countries," says Burns, "it is the spectacular scenes of Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone that draws many foreign visitors each year. And, it's not uncommon to stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon and sample the languages you hear. And, quite often, English is the third or fourth language after German, Japanese and French."

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