National parks celebrate 100 years with IMAX film

An arch aglow Delicate Arch glows in light from the setting sun as alpenglow lights up the La Sal mountains in the distance Friday at Arches National Park near Moab, Utah.
An arch aglow Delicate Arch glows in light from the setting sun as alpenglow lights up the La Sal mountains in the distance Friday at Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. AP

America’s first national park, Yellowstone, was designated in 1872, but it wasn’t until 1916 that the government established the National Park Service to manage the growing number of parks; there are 409 across the states as well as territories such as American Samoa. The agency is turning 100 years old in August, and in commemoration, Brand USA, the national marketing organization for the United States, has produced “National Parks Adventure” in partnership with MacGillivray Freeman Films and its co-founder, Greg MacGillivray.

The 43-minute movie, narrated by Robert Redford, debuted in theaters in mid-February and will be shown in 400 IMAX and giant-screen cinemas in 60 countries over the next several months. It features more than 30 parks and was created to attract tourists to the great outdoors. MacGillivray, who was nominated for two Academy Awards, including in 2000 as director of the documentary short film “Dolphin,” spent nine months bringing it to fruition.

We asked MacGillivray...

Q. How did you pick which parks to include in the movie?

A. We chose locations where we could get the best aerials and visuals that displayed the diversity of the parks, but also tried to make sure we included some surprise parks that most people don’t know about, like Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior in Michigan and Capitol Reef in Utah.

Q: What was the most memorable moment?

A. Our shoot in Pictured Rocks. We went there in the dead of winter to film our characters ice climbing and discovered the most beautiful ice cave. And while it was super challenging to shoot in 20 degrees below zero because the lens of the IMAX camera kept breaking from the cold and I got frostbite on my feet, this winter wonderland turned out to be some of the most memorable scenes.

Q. Is there a park you think viewers will be most intrigued by?

A. It may be Arches National Park in Utah and the sandstone tower in it called Three Penguins. These are giant red rock formations that look like three penguins standing in a row. The size and scope of these rock formations is overwhelming and shows how grandiose nature can be.

Q. Any close encounters with wildlife?

A. We had a crew go to Katmai in Alaska for three weeks to film the brown bears catching salmon. At one point, a 600-pound bear started approaching our cameraman, Brad Ohlund, as if he’d make a good lunch. Brad had heard that if you break tree branches it will discourage a bear because they think another bear might be coming through the trees. And luckily for us, this trick worked!

Q. You have a perspective on the ideal time to visit the parks. When is that?

A. The spring or fall, when most of the summer tourists have returned home and you can have a more personal experience. Winter is also gorgeous – you get this sky that is a rich, dark blue – but you have to be mindful that the parks in the northern part of the country can get exceptionally cold.

Q. Are there any parks you filmed that you’re most excited to visit again?

A. My favorite was Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. I love the magical fairy tale quality it has with its thin, tall rock spires.

Q. Why should tourists take a national park vacation?

A. These parks are America’s cathedrals, they’re our Notre-Dame and our Louvre, and they represent the very best of what this country is all about. As Robert Redford told me when I interviewed him after he narrated the film, “The stunning beauty of our wild places reminds us these landscapes are an essential part of the human spirit.” I truly believe that.

See the movie!

“National Parks Adventure,” narrated by Robert Redford, will debut at Charlotte’s Discovery Place May 21. It opened Feb. 27 at Raleigh’s Marbles Kids Museum. In Atlanta, it opened at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History Feb. 12.

Film details: