Friday, January 23, 2009


Last night I had the privilege of attending a screening/Q&A event with historical documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and his partner Dayton Duncan as they talked about their new film about the National Parks. If Ken Burns’ name doesn’t immediately conjure up anything he has done films that regularly appear on PBS and have titles like The Civil War, Baseball, Jazz, Horatio’s Drive and more recently War. He uses archival footage and photographs and I think they are great. In fact, I think may have learned more about the Civil War from his documentary than I ever did in school.

The new film, as I said, is about the National Parks with the clever subtitle of ‘America’s Best Idea’. Burns and Duncan previewed a bit from the first episode and then quite a bit with Yellowstone since we are less than an hour away from the park. It was funny, it was interesting and beautiful. I connected with it as well. The parks are a great idea because they are beautiful places that are preserved not for the elite, but for everyone. They are timeless.

Ever since I moved to Montana, I have felt a closer connection to nature. It’s not every day that you have two bald eagles hunting for mice in your backyard or seeing an entire herd of elk walk past your window. The mountains are my backdrop. The sky really is endless and I can see the stars when I look up at night. Its great stuff. It makes you feel connected in ways that you can’t feel in an urban setting. Sure it has its downsides, like the nearest movie theatre being nearly half an hour away or worrying about hitting a deer every time I come home at night, but it has its perks.

I suppose it helps that I am a nature girl. I love camping, hiking is way fun and nope the bugs and critters don’t really frighten or annoy me. Perhaps it has been my upbringing. My dad worked for the Forest Service (In Yellowstone) when he was younger and the nature vibe kind of runs in the family. I guess it made the whole film presentation even more worthwhile. I understood it. I appreciated it. I connected with it.

When it was all over Burns and Duncan answered a few questions. If you haven’t had the pleasure of hearing Ken Burns speak. He is charismatic, eloquent and intelligent. He has one of the voices where it is a joy to listen to him, as the woman remarked behind me ‘I could just close my eyes and listen to him all night’. But more than that he felt like just a normal guy. He was easy to relate to, as re his films.

He talked about how he makes his films to try and figure out how our country works and who we are as a people and a nation. As far as the parks themselves he said, “when we’re in the presence of these magnificent places that we’ve been fortunate enough to save, we’re reminded of our insignificance. At the same time, we feel bigger and feel a connection to everybody else.” I couldn’t agree more.

Dayton Duncan also spoke and answered questions. When asked ‘what park is your favorite’, it was difficult but he has a great connection with Glacier Park which is also in Montana as it’s the memories made there that are so important. The National Parks are safe havens for memories. For the most part they aren’t going to change. The Grand Canyon isn’t going to suddenly fill up and generations can visit the same place and kind of say ‘Yep, this is exactly how I remembered it.’ Or ‘See? Its just like I told you’. I know that when my Dad first took my brother and me to Yellowstone, the Canyon Falls were the same as they were when he first went there. And they will be when I take my children.

I have been lucky. After my parents divorced when I was a kid, my dad would take my brother and I to a new National Park every summer. I have seen lava flowing into the ocean in Hawaii, seen Old Faithful erupt, or stood staring in absolute awe at the Giant Sequoias. However, there are 58 and I still have plenty to go. For example, I still have not been to the Grand Canyon or the Everglades. I should really get on that.

Anyway, it was an amazing evening and when the documentary shows up in late September you really should catch it.

1 comment:

  1. Ken Burns Rocks!

    Very cool that you got to do this!

    P.S. the Grand Canyon is a must!!