Traveling to the National Parks in 2020 became a highlight of my time in lockdown. Trips to Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Zion, and the Grand Canyon will stay with me forever. For the centennial celebration of the Parks Service in 2016, Director Brendan Hall traversed nearly 10,000 miles of the American landscape. With his childhood friend on board, Brendan filmed the experience. The resulting documentary, Out There: A National Parks Story, showcases the beauty of the parks while also digging into the personal stories of those who frequent these gorgeous landscapes.

Out There A National Parks Story 2023 Florida Film Festival

Out There: A National Parks Story begins as the National Parks Service prepares to celebrate its 100th birthday. Brendan and his friend Anthony start their journey in Acadia, slowly making their way south and westward throughout the country. After connecting with a few rangers in their journey, they connect with more people behind the scenes. Over the next year, they interview and explore a side to the operations many of us take for granted. At the same time, they document the gorgeous landscapes in each park.

Hall’s ability to put these unknown stories into the spotlight separates Out There from traditional nature documentaries. Part of what continues to make the National Parks system unique is how it allows visitors to explore the untamed wilderness. However, at the same time, the infrastructure exists to protect and serve guests. While these landscapes are not drastically altered by man, there’s a curation that gives each park its unique aspects. With rangers setting trails, ensuring guest safety, and managing the parks, millions of guests can push to discover something special about themselves.

Out There A National Parks Story 2023 Florida Film Festival

Some of the more exciting conversations come from Indigenous travelers to the parks. Discussions with Jack Gladstone inform Anthony and Brendan about how Indigenous connections to the land remain. His explanations, and the overall tone of this section of the film, are one of the strongest moments of self-reflection within Out There. The spiritual traditions (or, as he notes, “kinship-centered tradition”) bring out an essential aspect of the land that cannot be summarized by simple observation. Instead, the experiential approach to visiting the parks provides a better understanding of our place in a larger tapestry.

As a new generation discovers these parks, questions about how land stewardship will shift. A renewed sense of understanding towards Indigenous rights has helped inform this shift in younger generations. The process of saving these parks, as well as general conservation, continues to evolve. As the parks continue to gain in popularity, the question of who should run them will continue to spark questions.

Out There A National Parks Story 2023 Florida Film Festival

Out There: A National Parks Story correctly showcases the beauty of the parks as well. In a time where climate disasters have even affected the parks, this documentation matters. On my trip, Yosemite and Sequoia were unavailable due to the raging fires. A blizzard shook through Arches and Capitol Reef, forcing us to leave for Salt Lake City. As the climate shifts, even our protection of these landscapes will require change. Hall’s camera celebrates the parks as they are today and hopefully will inspire more to journey while the opportunities exist.

Overall, Out There: A National Parks Story highlights one of our nation’s greatest treasures. These parks bring people from disparate backgrounds together. A weekend in nature helps to heal all wounds. With the world changing rapidly, our need to protect these sanctuaries should remain an integral mission for all Americans. Hall’s film reminds us of the people who already realized that lesson years ago. We say a hearty thank you to these people and cannot wait to join them in the wilderness.

Alan’s Rating: 7/10

What do you think of Out There: A National Parks Story? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments. Catch Out There: A National Parks Story at the 2023 Florida Film Festival.

Check out our coverage of the 2023 Florida Film Festival here!

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