Parents' Guide to

Public Trust

By Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 10+

Engaging docu about outdoor access sparks critical thinking.

Movie NR 2020 97 minutes
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This engaging, beautifully shot documentary isn't just good, it's enlightening -- and it should sound the alarms to American viewers, no matter their political party. Public Trust shines a light on the reasons why the United States has federally protected lands, why they're important, how almost all Americans enjoy them in some capacity, and why public discourse toward turning them over to gas, oil, and mining industries is gaining traction. Calm, rational, and geographically diverse voices share their plights and insights backed by a calming, poignant piano score. Together, they lay out a convincing presentation for why continuing to conserve the lands used for recreation, history, and sustenance is essential -- and the right of all American citizens.

As you might guess, it's shadowy figures, greedy corporations, and disingenuous politicians who are accused of wanting to divest U.S. public lands for their own financial gain. The "follow the money" angle is eye-opening, especially for young people who may be less aware of how special interests work to get political favor. The film outlines which U.S. politicians have taken money from which corporations and then shows C-SPAN and news footage with these same politicians aggressively fighting for the wishes of these companies -- often against their constituents' best interests. Public Trust also explains how, in the 1980s, a grassroots movement to take more control of public lands known as the Sagebrush Rebellion became funded by corporations who saw opportunity -- and that, too, can be eye-opening (although a deeper exploration of the evidence would be helpful). The one thing the film lacks is a credible representative of the pro-extraction sentiment. It would be helpful to present a balance and let viewers make their own decision. Because this film isn't just educational regarding the federally protected lands issue: It's a tool to spark critical thinking.

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