Return of the River (educational)

  • Directed by: John Gussman and Jessica Plumb
  • Produced by: Jessica Plumb

Released: 2014
Running Time: 72 mins
Subtitles: English 
Subjects: Environmental Studies, Conservation & Recreation 

A documentary infused with hope, RETURN OF THE RIVER explores an unlikely victory for environmental justice and restoration.

The film follows a group of committed people as they attempt the impossible: to change the public opinion of a town—and eventually the nation—in order to bring two dams down. Ultimately the community comes to a consensus, launching the largest dam removal in history and showing the way to a more sustainable future. The film offers inspiration amid grim environmental news, showing how an idea moved from "crazy" to celebrated reality. Reviewed as "hell-raising documentary filmmaking at its best", RETURN OF THE RIVER premiered to acclaim in September 2014. 

Return of The River from Collective Eye Films on Vimeo.


  • Marian Zunz Emerging Filmmaker award, sponsored by Disneynature 2015
  • Best Conservation Message, International Wildlife Film Festival, 2015
  • Best Storytelling, International Wildlife Film Festival, 2015
  • Gold Jury Prize, Social Justice Film Festival 2014
  • Best International Documentary, Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival, Malaysia 2014
  • Best Eco Film, Wine Country Festival, Sonoma CA 2014
  • Best Environmental Activism award, Adventure Film Festival, Boulder CO 2014
  • Audience award, Port Townsend Film Festival 2014
  • Jury award, Port Townsend Film Festival 2014
  • Gold Jury Prize, Social Justice Film Festival 2014
  • Best International Documentary, Kuala Lumpar Eco Film Festival in Malaysia 2014
  • Best Eco Film, Wine Country Festival 2014
  • Best Environmental Activism Award, Adventure Film Festival 2014
  • Audience Award & Jury Award, Port Townsend Film Festival 2014 


"Return of the River is hell-raising documentary filmmaking at its best, packed with natural beauty and a comforting message that hope is not lost for our bruised planet." - attendee of the Port Townsend Film Festival 

"With its stunning photography, in-depth historical background, and deeply- imbued tribal perspective,"Return of the River" is the documentary film that lives up to the grandeur of the Elwha, its renewal, and its promise.” - Lynda V. Mapes, Seattle Times, author, (Elwha, a River Reborn)

"Return of the River vividly portrays the epic story of the freeing of Olympic National Park's mighty Elwha River from two salmon-blocking dams. The Elwha Klallam people, scientists, fishermen, politicians, enviros, and townsfolk all add their voices to a film that is visually dazzling, lyrically evocative, and fluid as mountain snowmelt." - Tim McNulty, author

"A well crafted storyline, beautiful filmmaking, solid editing, a wonderful original soundtrack, animation when needed of the hard concepts…a 5 star must see film." -Al Bergstein, The Olympic Peninsula Environmental News

"Although keyed to Pacific Northwest territorial interests, filmmakers John Gussman and Jessica Plumb's poetic eco-documentary captures the full story arc of a controversial “green” problem and how it was satisfactorily resolved. White settlers who came to the Port Angeles area in Washington state built numerous dams along the Elwha River in Olympic National Park, which supplied hydroelectric power and lake recreation, but also destroyed the salmon runs that were the river’s literal lifeblood and offered subsistence to local Native American tribes. By the 1960's and 70's, tribal members were clashing with authorities over their fishing rights to nearly extinct local fish. With the aging dams required maintenance near the 100-year mark, a grassroots movement arose (spearheaded by Mountain in the Clouds writer Bruce Brown, one of several regional authors interviewed), urging that the dam system dismantled. Ultimately (and remarkably, via a presidential order by George H.W. Bush), a plan was implemented to remove the dams, but the local authorities fought it for many years before reaching a consensus solution. Dulcet-Toned narrator Debbe Hirata literally speaks for the river here in the noteworthy environmental documentary with rare happy ending. Recommended." - Video Librarian

"Return of the River is highly recommended for telling a complicated tale of environmental activism, community education, and intergovernmental cooperation in a clear and caring manner. The cinematography and editing create a vehicle that allows the viewer to empathize with the communities involved and the care in which the various interests of the Native Americans, industries, municipalities, the National Park Service and other governmental organizations came to an agreement that benefitted all parties as well as a commitment to returning the Elwha to as near its natural state as possible. The actions of those involved in agreeing to restore the Elwha River watershed may provide a workable template for other restorations. In addition, the film is dramatic, moving, and not to be missed. Highly Recommended"- Educational Media Review