The latest project of documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and his longtime colleague Dayton Duncan is "The National Parks: America's Best Idea." The six-part series took six years to create and will air on PBS in the fall.
Burns spent more than a week in Denali and Kenai Fjords national parks early in the filming, and his crew filmed in every national park in Alaska. Daily News reporter Lisa Demer talked on the phone with Burns, 55. He is based in Walpole, N.H., where he has lived in the same home for 30 years. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
ADN: What surprised you most overall doing this project?
Burns: I think it was the unexpected emotion ... That the parks have in short this ability to wake you up. To remind you of better self. To instill in you whatever you want to call it: Rapture. Transcendental experience. Religious experience. Spiritual experience. Scientific experience. Reason. They just have this ability to remind you of something more significant than the momentum of your ordinary life.
ADN: In Alaska, it seems just about every national park has at least areas free of traffic and planes and touristy glitter. But did you find parks elsewhere that were like that, that seemed to be true wilderness?
Burns: There are many places that are true wildernesses and it is also possible to get off the beaten track of even the most popular ones and find that solitude that permits you to, I think ,contact an essential aspect of ourselves.
But it's really true that that occurrence is just so familiar in Alaska. And I think that's part of it. We have to in a democratic society be tolerant of the people who are, you know, just pleased to have that windshield experience, to pull off once or twice at an overlook at go "ummm, what a nice view." But it's also available for those people who are willing to park and get out and camp and hike 10 miles or 15 miles or 150 miles into the interior and have experiences that few of us have but I think the rest of us are just pleased to know we could have even if we don't. There's always a thing that 99 percent of the people in New York City are not going to get to Alaska's parks but all 99 percent are thrilled that they are there.
ADN: What's your favorite story about Charles Sheldon (who is credited with the creation of what we now know as Denali National Park and Preserve)?
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