The country’s national parks might be closed right now, but work goes on behind the scenes to preserve their spirit of adventure and prepare them for the next generation of visitors. When Zion National Park were planning the debut for a new film that will play in their visitor center, the idea was just to keep it online for the duration of 2020 National Park Week — now, the video titled “We The Keepers” is going to remain on YouTube for as long as the parks remain closed, to raise awareness and give viewers a chance to experience Zion from the comfort of their homes and take a virtual tour of this Utah paradise.
Prior to a debut of the feature-length version of the film coming later this year, we caught up with Sean Slobodan, director at Local.Studio who produced “We The Keepers” to ask him about the creative process, his relationship with the park, and more. Watch the film while it remains on YouTube, and stay up to date with its upcoming moves here.
How did the name “We The Keepers” come about?
There are actually two versions of the film. The 23min version entitled “We The Keepers” (currently online for a limited time during park closures) will have a permanent home inside the Museum Auditorium. It will play every 30 min, 7 days a week, for the next 10-15 years. The Feature Length version entitled “Where Forever Is Now” will be released later this year at festivals. Both titles allude to the importance of understanding our role and the impact we have here. “Where Forever Is Now” comes from the writings of my good friend Lyman Hafen (he’s also the film’s Executive Producer), and for me it means that what we do now will determine what the future looks like in places like this. It’s all connected.
Both versions of the film serve different purposes. We knew we obviously had a built-in audience for the Park Version and we wanted to create something that could become part of the experience for visitors rather than just simply something to do while you visit. The Museum is located at one of the main bus stops and facilitates tens of thousands of people each year. The feature length version is meant for a world-wide audience, and distribution for it will be the focus for our team moving forward.
There’s artists, athletes, scientists and more in this video. How did this diverse cast come together?
This was one of our biggest challenges. One of the goals with the film was to find ways to connect to a very wide demographic. People from all over the world come to tour Utah and experience Zion, and so we needed to find characters that could represent a little of all of us. Once we created a list of potential types of characters, we then had to go out and actually find them — it was about as grassroots as you can get. We’d call friends who’d connect us with someone who knew someone, who knew someone else. We’d DM individuals on social media. Our Producer Shandi spent a lot of time reaching out and connecting us with some amazing people. It’s hard to imagine doing the film without any of the characters that we ended up connecting with.
From the Paiute people with traditional tales of the lands around Zion to Japanese visitors seeing them for the first time, there are a lot of stories to be told about this place. What role does a video like this play in that dynamic?
My hope is that this film encourages people to go out and find their own stories. I firmly believe that the only way we’re going to create change in the way that we impact our public lands is by connecting with them personally. The film shows very ordinary people doing very ordinary things, and yet we can feel the significance of it. Each of us has an impact, and I think it’s the stories we create out in these places that determines what kind of impact it is. All of our stories are extremely important to the preservation of Zion as well as our own backyards.
There’s also a sense of how things have changed, with quotes from the original Organic Act and a local comparing Zion to “DisneyLand” these days. Could any of this be felt in the process of making the video?
I think James McGrew says it best when he talks about the balance that needs to occur in places such as this. Zion isn’t simply a wilderness preserve meant to sit void of our presence. Zion is here for us to enjoy — whether on a tour of Utah or experienced alone, it can always inspire us. There is a balance. It’s not all or nothing. We are going to have an impact wherever we go, but that impact can go both ways if we allow it. Like any healthy relationship, you have to be willing to give as much as you take. Even with all the millions that visit and tour this part of Utah each year, Zion is sustainable. But it starts with a little less self-interest and a little more self-awareness.
What does it mean to you to be sharing this video with the public during lockdown?
It’s been nice to be able to share the film in such a way, for sure — honestly, it’s hard to imagine a better time for it. We’re just getting started on pushing it out into the world and this seemed like a very fitting way to begin.
What do you hope visitors to Zion take away from this video?
I hope that they are inspired to make Zion personal and find their own connection, and you don’t have to hike 80 miles into the wilderness to find it. Some of my best days in the park have been surrounded by other people, so don’t be in such a hurry to get somewhere. Where are you going, anyway? The best part of the park is the place that you’re currently standing.
A lot of people might be favoring domestic travel and road trips over more international options for awhile. What would you say to anyone considering a visit to Zion?
There’s a lifetime of things to see in Zion. I’ll never tire of that place, but my advice is to always value quality of experience over quantity. Don’t go in with too many concrete plans. Take some ideas with you of what you want to see, but wait till you’re there and just see what feels good. People tend to think that if they don’t do the same two or three trails as everyone else on their tour of Utah, they’ll be missing out. That couldn’t be more wrong. Take your time on one trail. If you feel like doing another one, go for it. Don’t be in a big hurry. Also, don’t feed the chipmunks.
You can stay up-to-date with “We The Keepers” as it moves towards feature-length release by signing up to this email blast.
Header image by @tiffpenguin on Instagram. Interview conducted by Passion Passport editorial manager Joseph Ozment.