A Journey to the 70 California State Parks in Danger of Closing

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When they got the news that budget cuts would put 70 California parks out of commission, three documentary filmmakers decided to pile into a converted airport shuttle bus and visit all of them -- in 120 days. They turned to Kickstarter and raised over $57,000, quickly exceeding their original goal of $35,500, to produce a full-length documentary, The First 70. Lauren Valentino, Jarratt Moody, and Cory Brown, collectively Heath Hen Films, spoke with activists and volunteers along the way, but they make a strong argument of their own by capturing the state's gorgeous, sun-dappled landscapes on video. The film is currently on the festival circuit, and will be available via download and DVD. Meanwhile, the California State Parks Foundation, a nonprofit that helped fund the documentary, has been working with donors to keep some parks open. They're tracking their progress via a map on their site.

Valentino, the producer of the documentary, describes how the project came together and shares a behind-the-scenes clip in a short interview below. The three filmmakers seem to be living the dream, cruising up and down the California coast for months, but she assures us that production was hard work -- "nothing about it was glamorous." 

The Atlantic: What motivated you to take on this issue? 

Lauren Valentino: When the list of park closures came out, Jarratt and I were shocked and saddened to see many of the San Francisco Bay Area parks we frequented on the list. The state's decision to shut down parks felt deeply flawed, we could not fathom the concept of closing a wild, natural area. After scanning the list of doomed parks, we spontaneously decided to visit each one before they were barred off from the public for good. We wanted to make sure that the beauty of these parks was documented for others to see. 

What was the shooting process like? 

Filming the parks was hard work! Almost daily, we rose at sunrise and shot until after sunset, often setting up time lapses that would consume half the night. It was easy to miss the perfect light at dawn and we frequently had to move onto the next park without feeling like we had really captured the right moment. We carted our gear on long hikes up the sides of mountains, watched the cameras overheat in stifling weather, and recharged batteries in coffee shops. Nothing about it was glamorous, and we never knew exactly what the next day would hold.

 



Did anything in the course of making the film surprise you? 

We kept waiting to come across a park that felt worthy of closure. In reality, each park was more beautiful than the next and most of them played an essential role in supporting their local economy. 

What do you want viewers to take away from the film?

On the most fundamental level, we want people to be aware that parks in California are closing. We also hope that people who see the film are empowered to help save parks by supporting new legislation, volunteering at their favorite park, or donating to the organizations helping to keep them open. 

What's next for you?

The First 70 will be shown on PBS channels throughout California, Washington and Oregon this summer. Screenings at parks, museums, theaters, and in communities all over the state are helping to raise awareness. The film has been accepted into a number of film festivals and we're hoping to schedule a few screenings on the east coast this summer. 

For more information about the film, visit http://thefirst70.com/.

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg's work in media spans documentary television, advertising, and print. As a producer in the Viewer Created Content division of Al Gore's Current TV, she acquired and produced short documentaries by independent filmmakers around the world. Post-Current, she worked as a producer and strategist at Urgent Content, developing consumer-created and branded nonfiction campaigns for clients including Cisco, Ford, and GOOD Magazine. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University, where she was co-creator and editor in chief of H BOMB Magazine.

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