Which national park is your favorite?
YORBA LINDA, CALIF.
It's like your children--you'd be a bad parent if you had favorites. But Yosemite gave me one of the most powerful experiences I've ever had--really rearranged my molecules.
Of all the places you've filmed in our national parks, which spot takes your breath away?
Heather Neighbors Thompson
It's hard. They're so varied. You go from the Everglades to the Hawaii Volcanoes to the Gates of the Arctic to Acadia National Park. I just took my youngest daughter to Arches National Park, and I thought I was on another planet.
Many have argued that access and preservation are not compatible goals for our overcrowded national parks. What is your view?
Robert Newman, SEATTLE
We run the risk of loving them to death. Anybody who's been in a traffic jam at Yellowstone knows what I'm talking about. But these are good democratic problems to have. The worst thing would be apathy. Then our rapacious nature would come in--and that's the part that looks at a stream and thinks, Dam, looks at a stand of timber and thinks, Board feet. And then we would lose them.
Should there be more federal funding of our national parks?
RIVER EDGE, N.J.
There is now, because of neglect from the previous Administration, an $8 billion backlog of maintenance. This is a bipartisan issue. We're not just saving beautiful scenery. We're saving our historic and cultural life too. Central High School in Little Rock is a unit of the National Park Service; so is Oklahoma City, the site of the greatest act of domestic terrorism.
What first led you to film?
Lindsey Smith Hull
My mother died when I was 11. Several years afterward, my father let me stay up late at night to watch movies on TV, and I watched him cry for the first time. He hadn't cried at her funeral, and I suddenly at age 13 or 14 realized the huge power of film, that here was the place that he felt he could express emotions. I vowed right then and there that I wanted to be a filmmaker.
Would you ever consider other genres than documentaries?
SOUTH BRUNSWICK, N.J.
[Feature film] was where I wanted to come from. I wanted to be John Ford or Alfred Hitchcock or Howard Hawks. But I have found in this work--asking over and over again, Who are these strange and complicated people who like to call themselves Americans?--the best job in the country.
Is there anything you would go back and change about your documentary The Civil War?
D.M. Oneal, PORTLAND, ORE.
There's no director's cut that I need to have. Critics quite legitimately point out which battles we didn't cover and which generals we didn't talk about. But we cannot be the telephone book. We have to find some way to tell a complex story.
What is the continuing fascination with the Civil War?
Margaret Penny Wood
We were destined to fight it the second we founded our country. The man who wrote the sentence of the Declaration that begins, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," owned more than 100 human beings. It is, as the great historian Shelby Foote said, "the crossroads of our being."
Who will direct the documentary on Ken Burns?
Jared May, BOSTON