The National Parks: America's Best Idea
(Rochester, New York) – In anticipation of Rochester's Greentopia Film Festival, WXXI presents an encore broadcast of the Emmy-winning Ken Burns' documentary series, The National Parks: America's Best Idea. The series begins Monday, September 2, 2013 at 9 p.m. on WXXI-TV, and runs nightly through Saturday, September 7. 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.
"Just as many of the lands that make up today's national parks were the spiritual homes for the indigenous tribes who lived there, they had a profound and often spiritual impact on the settlers who first saw them and on the visionaries who fought tirelessly to preserve them as the common property of the American people," said Burns. "They saw in them a visual, tangible representation of God's majesty. Our film celebrates the beauty of these parks and the vision and foresight of the men and women who made sure that this land would be preserved."
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.
With 391 units (58 national parks, 333 national monuments, historic sites and other units), the National Park Service has a presence in 49 of the 50 states (Delaware is the sole exception). 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.
In addition to Peter Coyote's narration, The National Parks features first-person voices read by some of America's greatest actors. Tom Hanks reads the voices of several characters in the film, including Congressman John F. Lacey, who helped push a bill through Congress to protect Yellowstone's last wild buffalo herd. Other voices include Andy Garcia, Josh Lucas, Eli Wallach, Campbell Scott, Sam Waterston, John Lithgow, George Takei, Philip Bosco, Carolyn McCormick, Adam Arkin and Kevin Conway.
The National Parks won the 2010 Emmy Awards for outstanding writing in the second episode, "The Last Refuge," and outstanding non-fiction series.
Pictured: Grand Teton National Park
Credit:Courtesy of Photo by Craig Mellish
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