The National Parks, the stellar new film by Ken Burns, tells the epic—and quintessentially American—story of how this “shining badge of the nation’s glory” came to be. At its heart, the film covers the history of the parks, but because it’s directed by Burns, this rich past is infused with the high drama you find in grand characters with titanic conflicts.
Burns credits the subtitle of the film—America’s Best Idea—to Wallace Stegner, the master storyteller of America’s expansion into the West and a deeply eloquent voice in support of the parks (which is fitting because Stegner would have turned 100 this year). The parks system may seem obvious now, but it was nothing short of revolutionary in concept, and it wouldn’t have existed without the brilliant vision and stubborn persistence of an impressive array of men and women. It is their story that Burns tells masterfully, and this element makes this series essential viewing. It’s an honor and pleasure to host the world premiere of The National Parks here at Mountainfilm.
Burns will be in attendance at all screenings, and writer Bill McKibben will join him onstage at the Palm after the initial show. To round out the national parks theme, we present best-selling author Nevada Barr, who has written 15 novels featuring fictional park ranger Anna Pigeon; Shelton Johnson and Gerard Baker, two eloquent (and non-fictional) park rangers; and photographer Quang-Tuan Luong with his wonderful images of national parks that will be on display.
EPISODE ONE: The Scripture of Nature (1851-1890) The concept of vast lands being set aside and preserved is alien to Americans, but in 1872, congress creates Yellowstone, the first national park in world history. One of the creators is John Muir, a Scottish-born naturalist who believes that “wildness is a necessity.” Q&A: Ken Burns and Bill McKibben
EPISODE TWO: The Last Refuge (1890-1914) John Muir’s passion and perseverance has led to a warm working relationship with President Teddy Roosevelt, who is an avid outdoorsman himself. The two men work together to preserve Yosemite, but their partnership has its limits when political pressures prevent Roosevelt from fulfilling Muir’s dream of a park in Hetch Hetchy. Q&A: Ken Burns and Shelton Johnson
EPISODE THREE: The Empire of Grandeur (1915-1919) As the national parks turn 50, America hosts a dozen parks, yet they are loosely organized and poorly run. Enter Stephen Mather, a brilliant but mercurial marketing whiz who sets out to make the parks into a system and persuades congress to create a special agency to oversee it. Q&A: Ken Burns and Gerard Baker
EPISODE FOUR: Going Home (1920-1933) With the Depression in full swing, setting aside public tracts isn’t a high priority, yet industrialist John D. Rockefeller agrees to secretly buy the land that becomes Grand Teton National Park. FDR becomes the first president to use federal funds to purchase private land for a national park. Q&A: Ken Burns and Quan-Tuan Luong
EPISODE FIVE: Great Nature (1933-1945) Park rangers are changing into soldier uniforms to go to war, and the national parks are suffering as a result. Yet President Roosevelt does his utmost to keep them going. One weapon in his arsenal is the young photographer Ansel Adams, who, in some ways, continues the work of John Muir. Q&A: Ken Burns and Nevada Barr
EPISODE SIX: The Morning of Creation (1946-1980) With the end of the war and the rise of an increasingly mobile and affluent nation, the national parks are once again struggling—but this time the problem is that they are being “loved to death.” Q&A: Ken Burns