Saving the National Treasures

A program for NOVA about the heroic efforts to preserve the Charters of Freedom: The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. A shortened version of the film is being shown hourly at The National Archives in Washington, DC.

Synopsis

Saving the National Treasures tells the story of the re-encasement and building of a new display by the National Archives and Records Administration for the “Charters of Freedom,” the three 18th-century documents which are the basis of the creation and the government of the United States.  They are the most precious documents in the country and among the most precious in the world.

What at first might seem like a straight-forward operation–protecting a few pieces of parchment from damage–turns out to be an amazingly complex operating involving the coming together of a large number of the top experts from a variety of disciplines.  The film examines the conflicting demands of the conservators, used to working with parchment and ancient inks, scientists working with computers and space age materials, experts in metallurgy and gases, and exhibitors concerned with making these documents accessible to a large public.

While following the progress of the encasement process, the film details the changing interpretation of the documents themselves, particularly the most damaged and intriguing of the three–the Declaration of Independence.  Over the years, as the ink in the words, “all men are created equal” faded to near invisibility, the words continued to speak to us in deeper, richer and ever-expanding ways, with whole new groups of people demanding their share of the American dream.  And so we are left with a fundamental irony: as the scientists and experts struggle with infrared spectroscopy, argon gas, and titanium encasements to freeze the physical documents in time, the power and the very meaning of the words of these documents continue to change and evolve according to the politics of the age.  A few pieces of parchment, in their new encasements of metal and glass–a few words that changed the world.

Credits

Producer/Directors Muffie Meyer, Ellen Hovde
Writer Ronald Blumer
Narrator Liev Schreiber
Readings from Declaration Eriq La Salle
Editor Dick Bartlett
Directors of Photography Richard Chisolm, Tom Kaufman
Music Ray Loring
Senior Executive Producer Paula S. Apsell

A NOVA Production by Middlemarch Films, Inc. for WGBH/Boston

Web Site

pbs.org/wgbh/nova/charters

Purchase

shoppbs.org

Reviews

This is the history of objects as well as ideas, and it’s fascinating.
Susan Stewart, TV Guide

With impressive access into the social and physical history of the “Charters of Freedom”, this Nova docu(mentary) manages to be compelling.
Michael B. Farkash, The Hollywood Reporter

Intriguing… The science alone would be absorbing, with surprisingly heated discussions over silicone gel and the nature of parchment… Nova (puts) some valuable context on it, looking at what these documents mean to us, both as ideas and as national touchstones.
Rick Kushman, The Sacramento Bee

Saving the National Treasures was selected as a Highlight or Pick of the Week in magazines and newspapers across the country, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Detroit Free Press and salon.com.