"Return of the River" offers a story of hope and possibility amid grim environmental news. It a film for our time: an invitation to consider crazy ideas that could transform the world for the better. It features an unlikely success story for environmental and cultural restoration.
Fundamentally, the Elwha River is a story about people and the land they inhabit. The film captures the tenacity of individuals who would not give up on a river, mirroring the tenacity of salmon headed upstream to spawn. It is a narrative with global ramifications, exploring the complex relationship between communities and the environment that sustains them.
The Elwha River is the ancestral home of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, who witnessed firsthand the impact of two dams on the river and its legendary fish runs. The tribe led the campaign to take the dams down; a century later, with help from numerous environmental groups and a national park, they are watching their dream come true. The film addresses environmental justice issues that resonate far beyond the Pacific Northwest. As the Elwha Dams come down in Washington State, the future of the Amazon River is under debate, one of many river dilemmas unfolding across the globe.
More simply, this film is a labor of love, drawing on footage filmed over four years by cinematographer John Gussman and created by a team who share a deep connection to the land and the people at the heart of this story. Co-Directors Gussman and Plumb both live on the Olympic Peninsula. The film reflects their love of place, offering a spectacular and intimate view of a uniquely beautiful region, with respect for the diverse communities that call it home.
As the largest dam removal project in history begins, the camera soars over mountain headwaters, dives into schools of salmon waiting to return upstream, and captures turbines grinding to a halt. The film features people and perspectives on all sides of the Elwha debate, reflecting the many voices of the Elwha valley.
The power of the Elwha River's story is described on screen by former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley:
"Here, in the success of our collective action on the Elwha, is a template for success on climate change, energy policy, ocean conservation… and hundreds of other issues. = It will be the great gift of the Elwha: Hope."