A Sense Of Wonder premieres Thursday, April 15, 2010. Check Local Listings to see when it is airing on your local PBS station.
Rachel Carson has been called the patron saint of the modern environmental movement. A quiet biologist who shook the world with her revelations about America's use of pesticides in the years following World War II, Carson has been named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. Of her book Silent Spring, Al Gore wrote, "Without this book, the environmental movement might have been long delayed or never developed at all."
The documentary-style film A Sense Of Wonder takes the form of two interviews with Rachel Carson during the last year of her life, as she battles cancer and her critics in the wake of publishing Silent Spring. Using the author's own writings as the basis for the film, writer and actress Kaiulani Lee provides an intimate glimpse of Carson as she is thrust into the role of controversial public figure.
The first interview takes place in Miss Carson's summer home as she is preparing to leave. Fighting breast cancer, she fears this may be her last visit to her beloved Maine coast. Outside the cottage, Carson's adopted son Roger explores the tidepools and patches of seaweed that remind Carson of her first books about the sea. She recounts her struggle to become a scientist, first at the prestigious Woods Hole Laboratory in Massachusetts and then with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and remembers the first time her employer suggested she submit a failed scientific paper to The Atlantic magazine.
As Carson reminisces about her writing career, we hear of her conviction that "a child's world is fresh, full of wonder;" the sounds of Roger playing in the surf provide a backdrop for Carson's musings about the changing human relationship to the natural world. As she packs boxes and pulls laundry in from the line, Carson describes the most recent change in her own life: her cancer, and her concern about finding the right family to raise her son Roger after she is gone. As the first interview comes to a close, Carson is quieted by her realization that she must return to Washington to face the uproar over her new book. As she puts it, quoting Abraham Lincoln, "remaining silent when they should protest makes cowards out of men."
The second interview takes place two months later in her winter home outside Washington D.C., where her life is embroiled in the furor over Silent Spring. Miss Carson is simultaneously battling the chemical industry, the government, the press, and her ongoing illness. As she struggles to get her message to Congress, she recounts with humor and anger the attacks on her by the chemical industry, and recalls the arduous but triumphant process that resulted in Silent Spring. Just months after the publication of the book, Carson recounts, President Kennedy's Scientific Advisory Committee concluded that both government and industry had been negligent in assessing the risks posed by chemical pesticides — vindicating the findings in her book.
Within a decade of Rachel Carson's death, a new era of environmental protection had dawned. America gained a Clean Air Act, a Clean Water Act, a National Environmental Policy Act, and numerous other pieces of legislation designed to protect and preserve the natural world.
Watch interviews with contemporary environmental leaders reflecting on Rachel Carson's legacy and tour the author's Maine cottage with her adopted son Roger at http://www.asenseofwonderfilm.com/.
© 2010 Sense of Wonder Productions LLC. All Rights Reserved. Text by Ian Cheney. Photos courtesy of Haskell Wexler, ASC.
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