The much anticipated film The Adirondacks premiered May 14th on local PBS stations. This 2 hour documentary was produced, directed, and written by Emmy award winning filmmaker Tom Simon.
In The Adirondacks, the story of the Adirondacks is told through a series of passionate characters, each with a distinct perspective on its past, present and future. Through their stories and many others, the program explores this remarkable region and reveals, at its very heart, a delicate and dynamic relationship between progress and preservation.
There was a lot of buzz ahead of the debut of this film, and it only grew once preview clips of stunning aerial footage were released. Those trailers certainly had me looking forward to the High Definition production (the first of its kind in the park I believe), but I was just as curious to see how the film makers would deal with such a vast subject.
On a lot of levels I was impressed with the achievements of the film. It managed to showcase some of the grandeur of the park in a way I have never seen on film – the high definition format really did the scenery justice. Quite a few of the histories and events they covered were interesting and informative, as were many of the interviews. But the real triumphs of the film came in more subtle moments for me… when it managed to capture the essence of the park in a way that is often hard to experience without actually being there. One of the opening segments, for example, was momentarily interrupted when there was a large splash near the artist they were interviewing. It was a beaver.
However, as the film wrapped up I couldn’t shake the feeling that my expectations for it had not been met. That it was awkward in places, such as the organization of the film into seasonal segments – which seemed like the right idea – but just didn’t flow with how the material was presented. That it omitted some important topics… like flora and fauna and geography – the nature of the park… while spending too much time on other things. The 90 Miler, for example, was something I was glad was covered, but it seemed peculiar to dedicate such a large chunk of the program to it when there were so many interesting activities and events that could have also been explored (like the Northville Placid Trail!).
And finally, the ending felt mismanaged. Clearly one of the subjects of this film, indeed of anything that attempts to cover the Adirondacks, has to be the delicate interaction of people and nature. For an hour and 40 minutes the film did a good job of showing how unique the park is in this respect. The history of ‘forever wild’, the tensions, the success stories, the inevitable changes to both human life and nature. But then it decided to end with coverage of the development controversy in Tupper Lake. While certainly one modern example of the development vs preservation balance, the whole feel of that segment seemed to drag the spirit of the film down… ending with quotes like this from Brian Mann (from North Country Public Radio, and whose personal political feelings really came through in the film) “It is very likely that if you came back 50 years from now and made this documentary, many of these little communities would not be here.” Statements approaching hyperbole like that from either side of the issue is a poor way to wrap things up, it just gave the whole thing a bit of a bummer feeling at the end. In my opinion that segment would have served the film much better in the middle, saving the end for a celebration of the unique history of the man/nature relationship in the park, as well as its current and (most certainly) future successes.
I suppose in a lot of ways the flaws of the film, and its failure to meet my expectations, can be directly attributed to the scope of the subject matter. Trying to capture something like the Adirondack Park in a 2 hour window is mostly a losing proposition. Considering that, it is hard not to admire what this documentary was able to pull off, and I think the HD footage alone would be well worth your time if you can catch it.
The Adirondacks is now being re-run on certain local PBS stations, check your listings for air times.
It can also be purchased on DVD.