obama our national parks
Still from Our Great National Parks courtesy of Factual America and Netflix

Our Great National Parks series producer Sophie Todd describes the Netflix series — narrated by former President Barrack Obama — a “conservation success story.”

“It’s 150 years since Yellowstone opened its gates, and now we have over 4000 national parks around the world. It’s a truly global phenomenon, and it’s something that we can champion and be really proud of,” Todd said on a recent episode of the Factual America podcast, where she made an appearance alongside Our Great National Parks executive producer James Honeyborne.

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Honeyborne hopes the documentary, which began streaming on Netflix on April 13, will inspire others to visit a national park near them.

“There’s a lot of things in conservation and environmental issues going on at the moment, obviously, but within that to have a real success story, which is the growth of these parks, and actually 50% of all national parks in the world, have been founded in just the last 50 years. So, it really is a current movement,” he said. “We hope that people will see the value of these places, and remind themselves of the value of these places, because they’re some of the most extraordinary, stunning, breath taking locations, and some of the last great wilderness areas left on the planet.”

He also acknowledged the positive tone of Our Great National Parks, which stands in contrast to other nature documentaries of late that have focused on more dire circumstances relating to climate change.

“We weren’t going to shy away from the issues. But equally, we wanted to be optimistic about some of the solutions that have been employed, because there are incredible solutions to the big challenges that conservation are facing at the moment, a lot of which happened in national parks,” Honeyborne said.

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Todd agreed.

“I think if we want to inspire people to do more, you have to offer them hope and solutions,” she said. “National parks are doing some incredible things around the world, and each of the parks we feature, tell us something more about the role that parks play, but some particular parks, we feature like Rwanda, like Patagonia, they give us visions for the future of parks and where we could go if we decide to, and I think it’s key that we do.”

Todd and Honeyborne also said that working with Barrack and Michelle Obama and their production company Higher Ground made for a great match.

“They’ve been involved from the beginning, from the development, all the way through when we started to go out filming, and we were sharing some of the footage that we were getting and talking about the parks that we were considering featuring,” Todd said of Barrack and Michelle Obama.

“From our perspective, we wanted to have a range of habitats that would reflect the globe, because national parks can be in any type of habitat. We feature leopard seals on fjords in Patagonia, as much as bison in Yellowstone. So, we wanted to reflect that it’s a global phenomena, but also that the President has a really personal connection to these places. He protected more natural space than any president in US history. So, he has a connection in terms of his legacy. But also, he talks a lot in his autobiography, and he’s spoken about his connection to national parks in the past. So, we looked at those as well to see where there were connections, and, plus, for example, his father was born in Kenya. So, we look at a park in Kenya, as he says, ‘the land of my father.’ And so all of those things came together. He was very much a part of the decision-making process.”

Our Great National Parks is now streaming on Netflix. Here are some time stamps from the Factual America interview:

00:00 – Trailer for Our Great National Parks.
02:10 – Introduction to the series.
04:37 – What Our Great National Parks is about.
05:49 – How the project was conceived.
08:00 – How it was working with President Barrack Obama.
13:45 – Why Sophie and James decided to take a solutions approach to the conservation topic.
17:00 – What they hope the legacy of this series will be.
20:33 – How sloths can cure cancer and a clip from the documentary showing sloths.
22:50 – The process of discovering new wildlife during filming.
26:20 – How Sophie and James got such amazing camera shots of the animals.
30:00 – The story of preserving rhinos and second clip from the series.
31:48 – The main lessons viewers can take away from Our Great National Parks.
32:55 – How it was to film this documentary during the pandemic.
34:38 – The development of remote filmmaking.

Factual America uses documentary filmmaking to examine the American experience as well as universal topics that affect all Americans. Guests include Academy Award, Emmy, and Grammy-winning filmmakers and producers, their subjects, as well as experts on the American experience. We discuss true crime, music, burning social and political topics, history and arts with the creators of the latest and upcoming documentary films in theatres and on the most popular digital platforms. This podcast is produced by Alamo Pictures, a London- and Austin-based production company that makes documentaries about the US from a European perspective for international audiences.

Main Image: A still from Our Great National Parks narrated by Barrack Obama courtesy of Netflix and Factual America.