‘One Day in Yosemite’


Filmmaker Bumgardner completes ambitious video

Last June 26 was not a particularly unusual day in Yosemite National Park. It was a bit crowded in the Valley and along the Tioga Road features, but it was not weekend heavy.

Ho hum.

But to filmmaker Steve Bumgardner, no day is ever a ho-hum day in the park. On June 26, 2012, he made it extraordinary.

Commanding a small army of 30 fellow videographers, “Yosemite Steve” created a 14-minute short called “One Day in Yosemite,” adding the video collage to a growing and increasingly popular body of work on behalf of the park and its “Nature Notes” motion pictures.

He unveiled the video Tuesday evening at Eagle Lodge as part of Mammoth Mountaineering’s Third Annual Mammoth Adventure Slideshow Series. 

The film as of Tuesday was in its final editing stages, but by Thursday morning (Jan. 24), it became available free on YouTube (search for Yosemite Nature Notes). Bumgardner said he expects the film to go viral, reaching, perhaps, the 470,000 views his film “Moonbows” has generated since July 1, 2011.

“If this doesn’t get 10,000 views by next week, I’d be disappointed,” Bumgardner said.

It is an unusual look at Yosemite—the park is perhaps the most photographed of all the national parks—and it includes looks at the iconic features anyone would expect: Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point, Tuolumne Meadows, and so on.

What makes this film so different, however, is that it is as much about people as it is about the park itself.

“I don’t know of another place that can make people cry from the front seat of a car,” he said. “I wanted it to be portraits of people. The human story might be more important than the nature story in a lot of ways.”

It is not a film that takes a stance, either, on political issues such as the destruction of the Hetch Hetchy dam and reservoir, or about traffic mitigation in Yosemite Valley.

All but a very few of Bumgarder’s video vignettes, gathered by videographers using nine different kinds of cameras, captured people doing things in Yosemite.

There is a touching portrait of a man and his son bagging Cathedral Peak; a rescue operation on the Half Dome cables; hang gliders using a special permit to wing their way into the updrafts of the park below them; a night shot of traffic in the valley, in which Bumgardner used campground lights and vehicle headlamps to illustrate the number of people encamped for the night; a person practicing yoga at Olmstead Point; and so on.

It is a 14-minute human kaleidoscope, told through the lens of the human imprimatur.

Bumgardner said when he showed a rough cut of the film to park executives, they didn’t know quite what to make of it. Bumgardner had a ready, though vague answer.

“It’s an art film,” he said. “It’s whatever you want to make of it.”

By Tuesday, Jan. 23, the film was complete, save for last-second edits for titles and credits. The audience at Eagle Lodge could almost hear the relief in Bumgardner’s voice as he recounted the editing process.

To take the sheer amount of footage from 30 videographers, then edit and assemble and stitch it together, was a time-consuming task that lasted from late June to mid-January. 

Not only was there editing for content, there also was editing for such things as color corrections, since the number of different kinds of cameras produced a corresponding number of color variations through different aperture settings.

In the end, he said he had what he wanted: a concise, 14- to 15-minute motion picture that would serve as a documentary for an ordinary Tuesday in Yosemite, in summer.

“We wanted fine wine, but in the process it turned to vinegar, which we made into lemonade,” he said of the editing path.

Bumgardner, who lives in Three Rivers, just outside the boundaries of Sequoia National Park, is an old hand at this.

A native Midwesterner, Bumgardner came west in the 1990s and decided he wanted to be a filmmaker. His first effort was an hour-long documentary about the 230 caves in Sequoia National Park. In those days, he carried a shoulder camera and cumbersome lights, which over the years have been replaced by handheld video cameras and lightweight, long-lasting LED lights.

He shot footage of “The Lost Airman” rescue in Sequoia, in which park officials pulled from the ice the mummified body of a 1942 airman whose plane had crashed in the mountains. He was in on a breathtaking bust-up of an extensive marijuana garden in the foothills; he filmed news footage of an incident in which a giant sequoia tipped over and flattened a parked car.

Lately, his work has included the aforementioned “Moonbows” video, along with a piece he did last summer featuring time-lapse video of the night skies above Yosemite.

And now his followers have “One Day in Yosemite,” which ought to rank among his best pieces of work.

It’s about Yosemite, yes. But mostly it’s about the people who go there.

“People,” he said, “really like looking at other people.”

Here is the video below: