Rebels With A Cause
SPECIAL EVENT: Documentary filmmakers Nancy Kelly and Kenji Yamamoto will discuss their award-winning film, “Rebels With a Cause,” at Summerfield Cinemas in Santa Rosa at 1 p.m., Saturday, November 24.
I hope the iconic images and sounds you see in Nancy Kelly and Kenji Yamamoto’as deliciously informative film, “Rebels With a Cause,” are familiar ones—the windswept landscapes, the migrating seabirds, the whales swimming north off Point Reyes National Seashore. Even If you are shackled to the 101 corridor and only stare straight ahead, you should recognize the shots of the precipitous natural cliffs contrasting with the art deco grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge.  
This fine documentary reminds us that the 80 miles of coastal beauty, cradled within one of the world’s most populated urban centers, is by no means accidental. You just have to drive a little past San Francisco’s southern limits to see the row upon row of almost identical houses snaking their way up and down the hills of Daly City to understand the carefully controlled anger Malvina Reynolds felt when she wrote her catchy ditty about “little boxes made of ticky tacky” back in 1963.
Imagine the hills on either side of the Golden Gate crowded with similar structures, or, in economic contrast, million-dollar, high-rise condos in gated enclaves.
Reynolds was just one voice among a rag-tag cadre of so-called environmentalists who worked separately and together for decades to create the current patchwork-quilt of local, state and national agreements worked out between private and public landowners, businesses, agencies, politicians and thousands of “just plain folks” that protected and preserved the joyous open spaces of nearby nature.
Underwritten by Sonoma County’s local treasure, KRCB-TV Channel 22, Kelly and Yamamoto have combined archival and modern interviews with such diverse individuals as the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, California State Senator Peter Behr, founder of Marin’s Audubon Canyon Ranch Dr. Martin T. Griffin, co-founders of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust Ellen Straus and Phyllis Faber, dairy ranchers Jolynn Mendoza-McCleland, and Albert Straus, five-time president of the Sierra Club and co-chair (with Amy Meyer) of People For a Golden Gate National Recreation Area Dr. Edgar Weyburn, and William Bennet, the attorney who spearheaded blocking Gulf Oil’s plan to build the City of Marincello for over 30,000 inhabitants on the Marin side of the Golden Gate, and PG&E’s plan to build a nuclear reactor on the headlands of Bodega Bay.
To appreciate the definitive “time warp” quality of their preservation efforts, you just have to view a few scenes from some of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic films. For example, the lonely “Fawcett” ranch and barn used in such a terrifying way in Hitch’s environmental horror film, “The Birds,” is really the Bianchi Ranch (looking much the same today as it did when it was filmed in 1963). Similarly, when Jimmy Stewart followed Kim Novak through San Francisco along Camino Del Mar and The Presidio’s Marine Drive, in “Vertigo” way back in 1957, only the size of the trees differs from how the same spots look today.
That continuity of spaces is captured in cinematography by Lou Weinert, Marsha Kamm, Emiko Omori, Tomas Tucker and Robin Mortarotti, and then artfully edited by Yamamoto with Todd Boekelheide’s original music and Kelly’s intelligent script (narrated by Oscar-nominated actress Frances McDormand). The result is a magical journey through what could have been a dull series of meetings, testimonies and bureaucratic molasses.
You will discover that this unique swath of nature does much more than “look pretty.” It helps make the air cleaner, the water clearer, and the soil and soul alike richer—inspiring writers, poets, filmmakers, musicians and generations of young people who spend time in “our outdoors.” Subtly, the film also teaches that the forces of “modernization,” “urban planning” and “full utilization of natural resources” never give up, and that the rest of us must remain as vigilant as the open-space pioneers featured in this film.
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