99-year-old Black park ranger Betty Reid Soskin sees American history as an ‘ascending spiral’ in ‘No Time to Waste’

National Park Service ranger Betty Reid Soskin
National Park Service ranger Betty Reid Soskin Photo courtesy GPFF
No Time to Waste:
The Urgent Mission of Betty Reid Soskin

(52 minutes, 2020)
Screening 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22
Winter Park Public Library
Available online Sept. 27–Oct. 3

Most of the National Park Service's more famous offerings operate on a time scale that is beyond the comprehension of human minds. History is on display at Arches and Yellowstone, but it's a matter of geologic time.

Betty Reid Soskin's role in the National Park Service has the exact opposite effect of staring at million-year-old rock formations. The 99-year-old African American park ranger tells the history of the United States to remind guests that we're not as far removed from the Bad Old Days as we thought, because they really weren't that long ago.

In Carl Bidleman's No Time to Waste, Soskin's story is put on full display. It spans from her born-enslaved great-grandmother — who was alive well into Soskin's 20s — to the presidency of Barack Obama. Bidleman tells this story in the same hands-off manner of the NPS, getting out of the way to let Soskin explain it in her own words.

Through Soskin, we see the history that America would just as soon forget. Her life connects the "peculiar institution" to the Great Flood of 1927. It runs from the still-segregated homefront in World War II through the Civil Rights era and, eventually, to her own post in the NPS as a sort of official truth-teller.

Soskin's view of history as an "ascending spiral," hitting on the same key points from a slightly better vantage each time, is backed up by the occasional historical asides provided by the filmmakers. The hour-long doc largely serves to show history is too messy and ugly to fit on anything you might find in a visitors center gift shop.

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