PBS to Air Ken Burns' Documentary About National ParksPublic Broadcasting Service announced today that it will air the new Ken Burns documentary series, The National Parks: America's Best Idea, in fall 2009. The 12-hour, six-part documentary series, directed by Burns and co-produced with his longtime colleague, Dayton Duncan, who also wrote the script, 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.
Filmed over the course of more than six years in some of nature's most spectacular locales—from Acadia to Yosemite, Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, the Everglades of Florida to the Gates of the Arctic in Alaska—the documentary is nonetheless a story of people from every conceivable background—rich and poor; famous and unknown; soldiers and scientists; natives and newcomers; idealists, artists and entrepreneurs; people who were willing to devote themselves to saving some precious portion of the land they loved, and in doing so reminded their fellow citizens of the full meaning of democracy. It is a story of struggle and conflict, high ideals and crass opportunism, stirring adventure and enduring inspiration—set against breathtaking backdrops.
The film's philosophical underpinnings:As America expanded westward, pioneers would "discover" landscapes of such breathtaking and unusual beauty that written descriptions of the lands were sometimes assumed by people in the east to be works of fiction. Eventually, there emerged a belief that these special places should be kept untarnished by development and commerce so that they could be experienced by all people.
"There was a sense that in Europe, you had the Roman coliseum or Notre Dame or the Cologne cathedral, but we didn't have anything like that in America," said Dayton Duncan. "But we did have these spectacular natural landscapes that were as unique and ancient as anything in the Old World. So they would become our treasures. They would be the source of our national pride. But unlike in Europe, they did not belong to monarchs or nobility. They belong to everyone."
Hmm. No mention of displaced Indians here.
After a list of all the non-Natives who helped develop the park system, here's the only Native participant mentioned:These historical accounts are paralleled with contemporary stories of people who continue to be transformed and inspired by the parks today. They include Shelton Johnson, who grew up in Detroit, where the national parks seemed distant, unreachable places until he later became a park ranger; Gerard Baker, a Native-American park superintendent whose tribe has long considered the land sacred; Tuan Luong, a Paris-born Vietnamese rock climber and photographer who fell in love with the parks and dedicated himself to photographing all 58 national parks with a large format camera; and Juan Lujan, who grew up in west Texas during the Depression and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, with which he would help develop Big Bend National Park in Texas.
I've posted articles
about Gerard Baker before. He generally talks about bringing a Native viewpoint to his position as Mt. Rushmore's superintendent. That's nice, but it doesn't address the overriding issue of removing Indians to make way for whites and their parks.
One more mention of Indians:As with all of Burns's films, there will be an extensive educational component, an interactive Web site that provides more information about the film, the parks and related issues, as well as a large-scale community engagement initiative. Four years ago, WETA and Florentine Films, with generous support from the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, launched the Untold Stories project, designed to bring to light stories from the national parks focusing on the role of African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans in the creation and protection of individual parks and to engage new and traditionally underserved audiences in the educational richness of the national parks.
Nice again, but I hope Burns isn't consigning the "untold stories" to the website and the companion book. They should appear (and prominently) in the film itself.Indians and parks
A whole book has been written on the subject of American Indians and National Parks
. A whole documentary could be done on the subject also. But this documentary doesn't seem to be that documentary.
Indian issues and conflicts were central to the founding of such major parks as Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and Mesa Verde. Will The National Parks
discuss or even mention these issues and conflicts? Judging by this writeup, I have to wonder.
Note that this is a press release from PBS itself, not a third-party article. So we can't blame someone for misstating Burns's vision. To me the writeup seems to describe a very white, mainstream viewpoint. How many Natives were consulted in the film's making?
Burns was criticized
for shortchanging the role of Latinos and Indians in The War
, his World War II epic. Has he learned a lesson from that experience? Or will history repeat itself yet again? Only time will tell.
Writerfella here --
That post better would have been titled, 'Ken Burns and NO Indians, again.' It simply is that Ken Burns has built his name and reputation on EuroMan's favorite commodity, revisionist history...
I'm surprised you didn't tell us what a great filmmaker Burns is, how his documentaries are invariably successful, and how I have no right to criticize him. That's your usual M.O.
Writerfella here --
As writerfella has told you personally, Rob, he does not always think the same NOR does he react to the same stimuli exactly the same every time. Others would do well to practise that flexibility...
I guess that explains your frequent boo-boos. You don't learn from your mistakes.
I figure you haven't met Ken Burns or quaffed a beer with him. If you had, you'd be kissing up to him like all the other white folks whose names you perennially drop.
P.S. In the US it's "practice," not "practise."
Writerfella here --
Wrong again, Rob. But then, such a circumstance would go a long way to explain why and how this blog exists...
Wrong about what? My last comment addressed three separate matters.
Alas, we often don't know what you're talking about. If you were a better writer, you'd know how to say what you mean.
Why don't you drop a few more names to explain yourself? Yes, another pithy anecdote about a hotel or bar visit with Gene L. Coon, Harlan Ellison, or Ursula K. Le Guin might help make the point. My point, that is, not yours.
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