A documentary called “Redefining Prosperity: The Gold Rushes of Nevada City” premieres at next week’s 16th Wild & Scenic Film Festival (WSFF). A dictionary defines prosperity as “a successful, flourishing, or thriving condition, especially in financial respects.” A redefinition of prosperity puts synonyms such as affluence, opulence, and wealthy in the background behind such things as stewardship of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we grow, and the community, kindness, and beauty we nurture.
Director and writer John de Graaf has shown many of his 40-plus films at WSFF. Greg Davis, who’s collaborated on John’s projects for 25 years says John “will take a subject and see a story in it that you haven’t considered.” In “Redefining Prosperity, he juxtaposes the Gold Rush, as in bonanzas of actual gold starting in 1848, with a more metaphorical gold rush in the 1970s. John calls Michael Funk, for instance, one of “the hippiest hippies, but also a most successful businessman.”
Funk suggests he’s “no different than half the people in the movie; attracted to living off the land; although I was one of the only ones who had an actual job. I always resented that people thought the counterculture was lazy. I had a work ethic, been working since I was eleven.”
Funk never foresaw his scrambling approach to selling natural and organic foods turning into 10,000 employees and 33 distribution centers. Funk says, “Prosperity should be much broader than monetary. It’s about quality of life…the hippie spirit is being able to foster change. With me, it was definitely about changing the way people ate and farmed.”
The Region and Its People
From farmers to culture mongers to community organizers, Nevada City cultivated its dynamic, modern shape. Funk agrees with de Graaf that the Nevada City area is something of model that other small communities could learn from.
Asked what most pleased him about being the film’s cinematographer and editor, Greg Davis noted, “It’s a bit of a love story for the town.... I most enjoyed interacting with people who know the town. The people are so incredible.”
Davis expressed further appreciation: “Nevada City is one d… cute looking town; it’s a sweet little community with a great downtown. One joy of being a photographer is that I don’t arrange and know what [we’re doing beforehand]. With the editing, I help bring the voices together. This film came together seamlessly, the way John works, and the way the community is.”
SYRCL and the Film Festival
Melinda Booth, Executive Director of the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL), and director of the WSFF, calls John de Graaf a living legacy in the environmental film world.” Not unlike the commitment of so many filmmakers showcased at the WSFF, Booth believes John is “using film to change the world.”
On how the Nevada City area and SYRCL and WSFF make the world better, Booth comments, “There’s the adage, think globally, act locally. SYRCL nails this. The Film Festival highlights this…. We bring people here, broaden perspectives. And the ‘On Tour’ program, raises funds [worldwide] for our work and also for the work in communities [where the tour plays].”
Speaking about locals, Melinda continues, “For [many], it’s their favorite time of year: the festival; the connection to the community; the energy buzz around town; the camaraderie and can do. For activists, new or seasoned, it’s rejuvenating. Environmentalism is hard. It’s a lot of trudging. [The festival helps you] feel larger than yourself.”
Asked if he did what he was trying to do with the film, de Graaf responds, “We did…. I’m not sure we knew we would go into the marijuana issue when we started, but that came in the process; stories come out in the process.” Asked for something that surprised him in making the film, he said, “this young couple of musicians; it’s great to see young people who have that kind of following, who are using their music to improve things.”
John was referring to Ayla Nereo and “The Polish Ambassador,” David Sugalski. Nereo shared, “We are both aware of the gift and responsibility of having a platform. I hold myself to a pretty high standard.” Ayla invokes a “shift in mindset” from “short term thinking in culture and government; reprogramming to longer term goals and reprioritizing what’s valuable.”
Reflecting on everybody having personal choices to make, Nereo remarks, “It’s up to us, how everyone shows up.” About a daunting aspect of commitment, Ayla accounts for herself: “I hope I’m way farther and deeper into sustainability and community” ten, twenty years from now.
John de Graaf, in addition to premiering “Redefining Prosperity” at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, is conducting one of the workshops that are part of the goings-on. John put what he considers an exemplary region on film. Now, he’s nurturing a bigger but related project.
John likes to refer to the workshop and the project “And Beauty for All” by coupling that phrase with a Doug Tompkins quote: “If anything can save the world, I’d put my money on beauty.”
The People Make the Difference
The film’s producer Jennifer Ekstrom says of the “delightful community” at the core of this documentary: “The best part of being the details person is to get to know the people…who really put their energy in it for decades.” It seems appropriate to acknowledge those who spoke on camera in the film.
Malaika Bishop Melinda Booth Andy Cassano Shelly Covert
Caleb Dardick Charles Durrett Kelly Fleming Michael Funk
Juliet Gobert Mikail Graham Heidi Hall Roger Hicks
Eli Ilano Eileen Jorgensen Paul Jorgensen Robbie Lansburg
Wade Laughter Izzy Martin Scott McLean Hank Meals
Kim Milligan Ayla Nereo Tova Rothert Reinette Senum
Sierra Harvest Food-Love staff Jordan Fisher Smith
Mike Snegg Nina Snegg Gary Snyder David Sugalski
John Tecklin David Vassar Deborah Weistar Tom Weistar
Jordan Fisher Smith, a longtime local and consulting producer, spoke the most on and off camera. John de Graaf praises him: “Jordan was so helpful, so incredibly knowledgeable, and such a good storyteller. Also, he’s passionate and cares and such a journalist.”
Add so many folks with unspoken moments on screen and all the folks thanked in the credits. For de Graaf, referring to getting this “labor of love” done, he says that he “owed this to Nevada City and the people who helped make it happen.”