The National Parks – America’s Best Idea

by Joanna Pineda Posted on September 30, 2008

Last week, I had the honor of attending a private screening of a new film by Ken Burns: The National Parks – America’s Best Idea. The film will air on PBS next September 2009 and was supported in part by the National Park Foundation, an esteemed Matrix Group client.

Even if you’re not a PBS kind of person, you probably know Ken Burns. His documentaries have helped us understand the Civil War, Thomas Jefferson, baseball, jazz and Lewis & Clark (among other things). And for all you Mac users out there, you know that iPhoto has a check box for “Ken Burns Effect” which adds slow zooming and panning effects to your slideshows.

The screening was a treat and an experience of a lifetime. Ken Burns and his longtime collaborator, Dayton Duncan, introduced the screening of National Parks.

We screened 45 minutes of what will be 12 hours. We learned the gripping story of Stephen T. Mather, the park’s first administrator, who got the job because he complained to the Secretary of the Interior about the poor state of the trails at Yosemite. We watched in awe as Ken Burns gave us the story of how Acadia National Park in Maine came to be. We listened to an inspiring interview with a park ranger who described seeing the buffalo one snow-covered day.

During Q&A, Ken and Dayton talked about why they were inspired to make a film about our national parks, and what surprised them most about the making of this film. They have been working on this film for 6 years; they have spent the last 2 1/2 years editing, and have another year to go. I was really moved when Dayton talked about visiting Glacier Bay with his wife and family. He spoke of connecting with time in two ways. When you view such old and magnificent scenery, you connect with creation and ancient time. But you also create a lasting memory with the people you experience the scenery with. He said most people remember when they visited Glacier Bay or the Grand Canyon, and whose hand they were holding.

So why the title – America’s Best Idea? In the movie, historians talk about the idea behind the parks as being quintessentially American — the idea of preserving the most beautiful landscapes in this country and making them available to everyone.

Thank you, Vin, Jaime, Susan and Dan from the National Park Foundation, for giving me and others at Matrix Group this once in a lifetime opportunity! And if you want to see some photos from the gala and screening, be sure to visit the Matrix Group Flickr feed. There are a couple of photos of Ken and Dayton at the podium.

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