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PBS Presents: The National Parks - America's Best Idea: A Film By Ken Burns

By Chance - Posted on 27 September 2009

Beginning tonight and running all week long on your local PBS station (check your local listings).

A new 6 part film series by acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns (The Civil War & Baseball).  

The National Parks - America's Best Idea  (PBS)

The National Parks: America's Best Idea is the story of an idea as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence and just as radical: that the most special places in the nation should be preserved, not for royalty or the rich, but for everyone. As such, it follows in the tradition of Burns's exploration of other American inventions, such as baseball and jazz.

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, 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 a biography of the American landscape.


Nearly a decade in the making, The National Parks: America's Best Idea is a visual feast, featuring some of the most extensive, breathtaking images of the national parks system every captured on film. It contains the most contemporary footage of any Ken Burns film since Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, shot principally by chief cinematographer Buddy Squires (who has filmed all of Burns's documentaries), long-time Florentine cameraman Allen Moore, Lincoln Else (who also is a former ranger at Yosemite) and Burns himself.


In addition to Peter Coyote's narration, The National Parks: America's Best Idea 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 Scripture of Nature (1851-1890)

The sumptuously filmed history of America's national parks begins in 1851, when California's beautiful Yosemite Valley started to attract people who wished to exploit the land, and others, like John Muir, who believed it should be preserved.

Duration: 120 min 

The Last Refuge (1890-1915)

The years 1890 to 1915, when many Americans feared industrialization would negatively impact the country's pristine lands, are recalled. With Congress yet to establish authority or appropriations for park protection, a conservation movement begins.

Duration: 150 min

The Empire of Grandeur (1915-1919)

The years 1915-19, when the conservation movement successfully pressured the federal government to create the National Park Service to oversee the nation's national parks, are recalled.

Duration: 120 min

Going Home (1920-1933)

The years 1920-33, when the automobile enabled more people to visit the national parks, are recalled. Included: National Park Service director Stephen Mather pushes to build more roads in the parks.

Duration: 120 min 

Great Nature (1933-1945)

The years 1933-45 are recalled. Included: the Civilian Conservation Corps are created during the Depression to undertake renovation projects in the national parks; NPS biologist George Melendez Wright pushes to reform the NPS's wildlife policies.

Duration: 120 min

The Morning of Creation (1946-1980)

The series finale covers the years 1946-80. Following World War II, the parks see a dramatic increase in visitors, resulting in a billion-dollar campaign to improve facilities and infrastructure.

Duration: 120 min 


I have been looking at it for about an hour now . . . Yosemite Valley. I'm loving it.

 If you can't watch it all week, they are replaying all 6 episodes on saturday. I am going to DVR all of them on Saturday, only because I have shows that I DVR during the week and I can't tape 2 at one time and watch another channel. Then I can have a weekend marathon when it's crummy outside!!  

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power
the world will know peace." Jimi Hendrix

Thanks for that info, Hope.  I will do the same.  I hope it's on the high definition PBS station. 


It is, I made sure I DVR'd on that channel.   

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power
the world will know peace." Jimi Hendrix

Ken Burns was on Colbert Thursday. I would have posted it, but I wasn't sure anyone was interested.  ( :

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Ken Burns

Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Health Care Protests

  I actually caught this on the tele last night. I was flipping through channels trying to fall asleep, and I happened across this show on PBS. I thought to myself "this will help put me to sleep". But man oh man was I wrong. This show was so interesting that I couldnt help but watch.

 It was truly an informative and interesting show. Great post chance. Great find!

"Government doesn't solve problems, it subsidizes them" ~ Ronald Reagan

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