Filmmaker Ken Burns mentors students during stop at IslandWood

Ken Burns, the preeminent American documentarian, visited Bainbridge Island yesterday to to interact with a new generation of documentary filmmakers.

Burns, famous for his artful historical storytelling and his pop-culture use of panning archival footage, spoke with a handful of local youth about films and the importance of preserving our natural treasures.

It is part of Burns' promotional tour for his new PBS documentary "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," which will air in September.

"There is a practical reason for this," Burns said. "Unless the parks have new stewards, then the parks are in danger. You can lose a place and it is gone for ever. Once you save it, it requires a constant vigilance to keep it there."

Burns is best known for his documentaries "The Civil War," "Jazz" and "The War" – a look at World War II through the eyes of those who lived through it.

Joined by co-producer Dayton Duncan, the pair visited IslandWood Sunday to speak with 12 students who have their own filmmaking ambitions.

Flanked by a Seattle KCTS film crew, Burns and Duncan interacted with budding local filmmakers who were working on concepts for a series of shorts being promoted by Seattle's public access station.

The KCTS clips of the IslandWood visit will be part of a limited preview of the National Parks documentary, to be presented tonight at Seattle's Benaroya Hall.

"I think he's realizing that he needs to connect with a new generation and share his legacy," said Tony Gomez, an outreach coordinator with KCTS. "He was very specific about wanting to work with youth while he was here."

Of the local youth in attendance, some were the Eagle Harbor High School students who made the acclaimed Elwha Dam removal documentary "Shifting Currents," which was featured in numerous film festivals.

Andrew Bastidas, an Eagle Harbor High School student who will be attending Stanford next fall, said he benefited from Burns' appearance.

"It was a good to meet someone who is higher up on the filmmaking scale," Bastidas said.

Although he will not be going to school for film, Bastidas would like to make the switch to filmmaking after a grounding in the sciences.

"I see film as an avenue for political and ideological discourse. You can do so many things with film; any strong background can give you a grounding in documentary making," he said.

Burns will be back in the Seattle area soon. He plans to make the 10th edition to his renowned "Baseball" series, which will feature the Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki.

He will also be taking a closer look at Seattle's bootlegging history with a documentary in production called, "Forbidden Fruit: America During Prohibition."

For his latest documentary, Burns has visited extensively in the Northwest, filming on location in the Olympic, North Cascade and Rainier national parks, all which play an important role in the film's development.

He only recently became aware of Bainbridge Island's Japanese American Memorial, which is one of the newest additions to the National Park Service. But he recognized it as part of a proud American legacy of preserving historic and natural places of significance.

"It's a hugely important thing, because we are running out of public spaces," Burns said. "And I enjoy talking to kids who may not feel an ownership of the national parks, and that's the important part of creating new constituents."

Clips from Burns' time at IslandWood will be presented at Benaroya Hall tonight. Burns and Duncan will also preview portions of their upcoming documentary this evening.

The Nation Parks: America's Best Idea will air on PBS this September.

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