The Gold Rushes of Nevada City
The story of how a mining town recovered from its legacy of pollution and prospered by building community around the battle to save their beautiful river.
Directed by John de Graaf
Produced by Jennifer Ekstrom, John de Graaf
Writer: John de Graaf
Photographer / Editor: Greg Davis
Narrator: Jackie O'Ryan
Born in the California Gold Rush, Nevada City was once the scene of some of the most destructive environmental practices on earth. By the 1960s, the town was a backwater, its extractive industries dying. Then it was discovered by the "back to the land movement." It was a second gold rush but with a different idea of gold based on nature, community and a sense of place.
"A beautiful story of community, activism, economics, conflict, and ultimately, coming together." Brady Walkinshaw, Publisher, Grist
The fight to save the Yuba River from proposed power dams brought conflicting factions of the community together while different ideas about the meaning of wealth have led to changes in local food production, education, arts, music and a commitment to building community. Once a place whose essence was individualism, competition and extractive industries, Nevada City is now moving toward a future of solidarity, stewardship, and livelihoods based on renewable resources, husbandry and sustainability.
Featuring two dozen of Nevada City's most active citizens and their stories, REDEFINING PROSPERITY is the remarkable story of a beautiful California town and the outward-looking, creative people who call it home and forged its new identity.
Grade Level: Grades 7-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2018
Copyright Date: 2017
DVD ISBN: 1-948745-04-6
"An inspiring film about the possibilities for realizing regenerative forms of productive work. In Nevada City, California, residents grew a healthy food movement, protected their wild and scenic river, and nurtured a vibrant community. At a time when we are facing the imminent threat of climate change, the film reminds us that reclaiming a closer relationship with nature and with each other is ever more critical."
Ana Baptista, Assistant Professor, Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management, Associate Director, Tishman Environment and Design Center, The New School
"This film provides a valuable window into the evolution of a historic part of California from gold mining to community scale agriculture and local community development. It weaves in the legacy of gold mining and Native American displacement and genocide with the region's revival through the influx of the 60's generation 'Back to the Earthers.' It shows the possibility of cooperation and reaching over ideological divides to preserve the beloved Yuba River and environmental attributes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains."
Stephanie Pincetl, Founding Director, California Center for Sustainable Communities, Professor, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, University of California - Los Angeles
"A beautiful story of community, activism, economics, conflict, and ultimately, coming together. With the nearly two-decade experience of protecting the Yuba River as the lens, the film shares a broader lesson of how we find common ground and common value around the natural resources that sustain us all. And, the film's characters stick with you!"
Brady Walkinshaw, CEO and Publisher, Grist
"The community has coalesced around the view that what is valuable is quality of social life, economic sufficiency, and quality of the environment; and that prosperity lies in supporting and enhancing these qualities. For social change practitioners, Redefining Prosperity offers the inspiration of a success story and a detailed discussion of organizing techniques for bringing progressive and conservative factions together to identify what they mutually care about...For social science and history instructors, the film provides a rich basis for discussion of green growth, dematerialization, and degrowth."
Craig Harris, Associate Professor of Sociology, Michigan State University
"Viewers looking to simplify their own existence will welcome this view of alternative paths to a prosperous life."
Lawrence Maxted, Library Journal
"A well-crafted film of environmental history and community building...Over time, the efforts of active citizens led to the development of progressive education, organic farming, and thriving enterprises in the arts. A 16-year fight to protect the Yuba River from being dammed brought together local residents, activists, and leaders to define a new 'gold' worth rushing to: a love of nature, community living, and the stewardship of place."
Christine Cousineau, Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Tufts University
"Redefining Prosperity chronicles the history and evolution of a city whose landscapes and collective memory have been scarred by capitalist development, settler colonialism and ethnic exclusion...The film would interest viewers who want to understand how the ecotopian environmentalism distinctive to California has evolved in the 21st century."
Dr. Manisha Anantharaman, Assistant Professor in Justice, Community and Leadership, Saint Mary's College of California
"Provides excellent insight into how three radically different times - the 19th century gold rush era, the late 20th century back-to-the-land movement, and contemporary tourism plus cannabis cultivation culture - have shaped a beautiful rustic place. For classroom use I'd recommend combining this film with a student essay exploring and comparing the values, worldviews, and sustainability implications of these different periods."
Stephen Wheeler, Professor, Dept of Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture Program, University of California-Davis, Author, Planning for Sustainability: Towards Livable, Equitable, and Ecological Communities
"By showing the story of a mountain region in historical perspective, Redefining Prosperity offers the gift of hope. This inspiring film reveals a transformation of values from destructive greed during the Gold Rush to community creativity that draws strength from the defense of a wild river and prosperity from the renewal of lands and lives."
Stephen Most, writer and filmmaker, Author, Stories Make the World
"Redefining Prosperity raises important and timely questions about the relationships between environmental protection, social ideals, and economic development. The film will inspire vigorous classroom discussions about how U.S. history plays out in a small town setting, complete with environmental destruction, harm to Native Americans, waves of development, the perpetuation of many forms of inequality, and generations of residents seeking to protect a community's character and environment."
Alissa Cordner, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Whitman College, Co-author, The Civic Imagination: Making a Difference in American Political Life
"This gem of a film highlights the community-based collaboration that is at the heart of today's conservation movement. Nevada City, home of the Tahoe National Forest, is a shining example of how a rural community can sustain a healthy environment and economy. In fact, this documentary offers a model for any city or town that seeks a higher quality of life for its residents."
Steve Dunsky, filmmaker, U.S. Forest Service
|Reduced rates for activist and grassroots groups. Please inquire.
DVD includes SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and scene selection.
Awards and Festivals
People's Choice Award, Wild & Scenic Film Festival
New Paradigm Award, Earth Day Film Festival
Taos Environmental Film Festival
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"Redefining Prosperity is a beautiful look at three historical eras in the life of a fascinating California town. This engaging story combines economy, politics, environment, culture and community over more than a century of changing ideas about what makes us prosper. An inspiring film!"
Lance Bennett, Professor of Political Science, Professor of Communication, Director of the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement, University of Washington
"Redefining Prosperity demonstrates that people with creativity and the desire to put quality of life above profit have the potential to strengthen both a shared sense of community and individual well-being."
Dr. Jinny A. Turman, Assistant Professor of History, Community History and Preservation, University of Nebraska at Kearney
"All too often in the environmental movement we focus on what is not working, rather than what is working. Redefining Prosperity celebrates local movements to preserve natural beauty and nourish healthy communities. Beyond politics and ideology, we all long for beauty. A new 'Gold Rush' in Nevada City, California sought to heal wounds created by centuries of resource exploitation and destruction to land and indigenous communities. Through an effort to save the beloved Yuba River, the community restored unity and collaboration. Nevada City now sees its natural spaces as valuable not for resource extraction, but as treasures of their own."
Allen Myers, Director, Earth Day Film Festival