Acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns can now add “honorary park ranger” to a resume that already includes two Academy Award nominations, seven Emmy Awards, and 20 honorary degrees.
Acting National Park Service Director Dan Wenk recently presented Burns and his production partner Dayton Duncan with honorary park ranger certificates and traditional ranger hats during a ceremony in the Department of the Interior Auditorium. After receiving the awards, Burns and Duncan previewed and discussed a short film based on The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, their six-part, 12-hour series scheduled to air on PBS stations nationwide this September.
“Ken and Dayton have created a documentary film on the national parks and the origin of the National Park Service that provides Americans an opportunity to reflect on the significance and value of our national parks,” said Wenk. “Their film will assist the National Park Service in communicating important messages and themes, such as the wonder of our natural and cultural heritage preserved in the National Park System; the unique American ideas and ideals that the System represents; and the inclusion of America’s diversity in its past, present, and future.”
Duncan, the series’ writer and co-producer, first thought of making a film about national parks during a cross-country vacation in 1998. The project, eight years in the making, traces the birth of the national park idea in the mid-1800s and follows its evolution for nearly 150 years.
Creating the series was a labor of love for Burns and Duncan, who both said that many of their fondest memories include experiences shared with family members in national parks. Burns, the director and co-producer, said the cinematography in the series is the most stunning of his nearly 30-year career. He mixed scenic shots with archival footage and photographs and supplemented them with first-person accounts from historical characters as well as personal memories and analysis collected from more than 40 interviews.
Like his prior epic works – about the Civil War, baseball, and jazz – Burns’ latest documentary has a quintessentially American theme.
“National parks embody an idea as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence and just as radical: that the most magnificent and sacred places in our land belong not to royalty or the rich but to everyone – and for all time,” said Burns. “While making this series, we discovered more than stories of the most dramatic landscapes on earth. We discovered stories of remarkable people from every conceivable background. What they had in common was a passion to save some precious portion of the land they loved so that those of us who followed might have the same chance to fall in love with that place. Without them, parks would not exist.”