Film clip shows progress of Elwha River restoration
By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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Gussman and Jessica Plumb, producer and chief editor for “Return of the River,” offered the film clip at the Port Angeles Library on Monday night to solicit audience reactions and feedback to the film and to introduce it to local audiences.
Gussman, a professional photographer for almost 40 years and owner of Doubleclick Productions, began work on the self-funded film to document the National Park Service's $325 million Elwha River Restoration Project in early 2010, long before the demolition of the dams began in September last year to return the river to its wild state and encourage the return of wild salmon.
The film clip shown Monday was mostly from the first section of the documentary — the history and politics of the dam construction and the push for dam removal that resulted in the largest dam-removal project in the history of the United States.
It began with the purchase of the land where Elwha Dam was sited and its construction from 1911-1912, the addition of Glines Canyon Dam upriver in 1927, the dams' effects on the fish and the economy of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, and how it fed the electrical needs of a growing Port Angeles and other sites on the North Olympic Peninsula.
The film also tells the story through the reports of early settlers, local fishermen, Lower Elwha tribal members and a former power plant engineer.
At the end, the clip received enthusiastic applause.
“It's not a finished piece by any means,” Gussman said, and added that there had been changes since the last time he showed it to an audience.
He said it would change again by the time the next audience sees it Aug. 20 at the Elwha River Science Symposium at Peninsula College's Little Theater.
Historic information and interviews with major players in the dam-removal process are interspersed with historic photos and a time lapse of the dam-removal process.
“I can't wait to see the whole thing,” said an audience member.
“Me, too,” Gussman replied.
Among those on hand to see the presentation were river scientists, historians, environmentalists, former dam workers and people who were involved in the dam-removal process.
One of the problems facing the filmmakers was the lack of early photographs of the dam site, from before the time Elwha Dam existed, and its early construction, Plumb said.
“We're fortunate for what does exist,” she said.
Gussman said he has been trying to find the location of where each old photograph was taken and to reproduce them for comparison.
Two of the photos are of particular interest, he said.
One he said is believed to be of the Elwha Dam site before construction began, and the other is of a grassy ranch located in the wide valley where the Lake Mills delta behind Glines Canyon Dam is today.
Many of the audience members had either contributed information contained in the film or were part of the film themselves, Gussman said, pointing out several people who appeared on-screen.
Once completed, “Return of the River” will be a full feature-length documentary, Gussman said.
Although it has been in production for nearly 21/2 years, the film still has a long way to go, he said.
How long has not been determined.
There is no release date for the film.
“It's a timing dilemma,” Plumb said.
There is a growing circle of interest in the Elwha River Restoration Project, creating pressure to get the film out, she said.
How to end it?
Gussman said much of the timing depends on the filmmakers' choice of how to end the documentary.
At one point, the film was going to stop with an unknown, nebulous ending that left the river's future open, Gussman said.
Then, the first wild steelhead were discovered in a tributary upstream from the Elwha Dam site in May.
That would have been the perfect, hopeful end to the film, he said.
But Gussman said the speed at which the dams are being removed — demolition of Elwha Dam was completed in March, and Glines Canyon Dam is expected to be completely dismantled sometime next year — has thrown that conclusion into doubt.
Gussman asked the audience if they would prefer an open ending or to end with the final removal of Glines Canyon Dam — maybe even with the first wild salmon to swim past the site.
Wait for salmon
By a show of hands, the audience voted to wait for the salmon, or at least for the dam to come down.
They also asked Gussman to make a second film to document the recovery of fish and the revegetation of the lake sites over the first few years.
He did not agree to a second film, but he did not rule it out.
More information on the film, including a five-minute preview, can be seen at Gussman's website, www.elwhafilm.com.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: August 01. 2012 5:22PM