Rise of the river, fall of the dams

— image credit:
Sequim Gazette

Sequim resident John Gussman’s two-plus years of effort to capture the Elwha River dams’ removal is beginning to take form in his documentary “Return of the River.”


Gussman, a professional photographer, nears post-production stages of editing hundreds of hours of film into a story on the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams.


He and producer, writer and editor Jessica Plumb of Port Townsend started a Kickstarter online campaign (see box) to fund finishing touches on the film.


Gussman said the film will follow the dams’ history and step-by-step deconstruction, their effect on the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe citizens and the fish habitat traversing the Elwha River.


Plumb said in the process of researching the film, they’ve learned about the combined efforts of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and a team of environmentalists who put the option of the dams’ removal on the table.


“Part of the story is the quiet struggle by these people to get to this point,” Plumb said. “It has the potential to be an environmental success story.”


“Return of the River” will include a wide range of interviews with tribal chairwoman Frances Charles, environmental advocates, Olympic National Park employees and Orville Campbell, retired manager of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams.


Gussman plans to incorporate much of his nature footage, too.


In February 2010, Gussman said he got serious about photographing and taking video to document the dams’ removal and it was an opportunity he couldn’t miss.


“I’ve always liked taking pictures up in the Elwha,” he said. “I wouldn’t be doing this without my love for the Elwha Valley.”


He met Plumb in October 2011, shortly after the Sept. 17 ceremony celebrating the start of the three-year project to bring down the dams.


Plumb, who owns a video production company, said this is her most ambitious project yet.


“What makes it unparalleled is the amount of footage (Gussman has) on this topic,” she said.


Gussman said he knew he’d go the documentary route with his coverage.


“While other people are doing films, I’m living this. I have been living this almost every day for the last two years,” he said. “I’m driven by pure passion.”


His efforts have resulted in driving more than 7,500 miles and snapping on average 13 gigabytes of film an hour over two years of working.


The duo hopes to complete the documentary by the end of 2012.


Gussman plans to continue shooting into 2014 when the removal project scheduled for completion.

He isn’t sure when recent filming will stop being added to the film.


Plumb said they are going to prepare the film as a feature documentary for broadcast TV and film festivals. A sequel is a possibility.

Fundraising the documentary

Their Kickstarter online campaign ends Saturday, March 31. At the time of print, Gussman and Plumb were nearing their $10,000 goal.


Different donation amounts allow for items such as a DVD copy of the finished film and/or a photographic print from Gussman. These remain available even if the goal is reached before the deadline.


If the Kickstarter campaign doesn’t meet its goal, then no money changes hands.


“The campaign really raised people’s interest of this project and John’s efforts,” Plumb said. “It’s amazing to see the confidence people have in this.”


Following the end of the Kickstarter campaign, they are continuing support through the Northwest Film Forum, a nonprofit sponsor, where donations are tax refundable.


Visit for more links to the Kickstarter campaign, Northwest Film Forum’s site and a preview of the film.

Reach Matthew Nash at
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