Friday, March 20, 2009 | 9:56 p.m.
Filmmaker Ken Burns wants to get children away from video games and social networking sites and get them interested in nature.
"The National Parks: America's Best Idea," his new six-part, 12-hour documentary series, could be a catalyst to spur their interest, he said Friday before a special hour-long preview of his new documentary at the Springs Preserve in central Las Vegas.
The parks are the antidote to a detached digital existence, Burns said.
The series will air on PBS in September.
Burns said he wants the memories of elders and historians, and the videography of the places they loved, to drive families to explore nature.
"It's harder to pile the kids for three weeks in the minivan because they don't want to leave their Game Boys or video games or DVDs or downloads or Twitter or Facebook," Burns said. "And you end up isolated (with those things). They think they are connected, and they are in some respect. But you must be firmly rooted in nature before you can be in anything else."
Las Vegas families watched a bear fish for a salmon on a large screen in the outdoor amphitheater. Billowing clouds crossed a sunset while wolves howled. Jutting, snow-capped peaks beckoned to families surrounded by a landscaped environment in the center of a metropolis.
Pictures of Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Great Smoky Mountains rolled across the screen as the Stratosphere glowed in the distance.
This series has his most spectacular cinematography, Burns said. And it's his longest in production (10 years, six of those shooting).
"(The parks) ... represent an utterly democratic impulse. For the first time in human history, land was set aside not for kings or for the rich but for everybody and for all time," he said. "Nobody has ever thought that up. Only a democratic society could have thought that up. Only a democratic society could trust its people to own the most spectacular parts of its landscape, and that's why it's the best idea."
The film showcased the success of national parks during the Great Depression. He said he believes the country will embrace parks during this recession.
"It comes at a time when people can't afford to make those expensive trips and national parks are at your front step," he said. "They offer a respite and a refuge."
It's that reason Lisa and Dave Singer, of Henderson, brought their four children to the screening event at the Springs Preserve, "the only beautiful part of Las Vegas," Lisa Singer said.
As for 7-year-old Mason, he can't wait to see all the national parks.
"I like climbing rocks" more than the Nintendo DS, he said.
Burns might have succeeded beyond one family, as more than 1,650 people reserved tickets for the free preview.
The series explores the history of the national parks and the stories of those who fought to protect and preserve America's national treasures.
"We're trying not to be encyclopedic -- we're trying to tell great stories," said Burns, who is known for creating historic epics like "The War," and "Lewis and Clark."
Burns, who looked at ease in a suit coat and jeans, joked with the audience that he dislikes clips, so they will have to sit for the complete show.
"You may get out by 8 a.m. tomorrow if that's OK with all of you," he said. "And that's with no bathroom breaks or food."
The series spans from 1851 to the 1980s. It includes details about the 58 natural national parks -- some uplifting, some not. It touches on the havoc white Americans caused on the native inhabitants, or conflict between early settlers and the bears and birds they found themselves competing against for food and land.
Burns is promoting his series by visiting inner city schools, such as Las Vegas' Bailey Middle School, in an effort to connect children to national parks. Bailey students were featured in "City Kids and National Parks" for the "Untold Stories" produced by the Washington D.C. PBS station and Florentine Films, Burns' production company.
For information visit www.pbs.org.
Burns next projects include an updated baseball series called "The Tenth Inning" and a series on Prohibition.