Directed by Lawrence R. Hott and Diane Garey • Documentary • 2008 • 57 minutes
For centuries, the Cuyahoga River has been on the frontier. When the United States was a new nation, the river literally marked the western frontier. But by 1870, the river was on the industrial frontier and its banks sprouted a multitude of factories, a booming display of what was called progress. The river, as it flowed through Cleveland, became a foul-smelling channel of sludge, with an oily surface that ignited with such regularity that river fires were treated as commonplace events by the local press.
But then, in 1969, the river burned again, just as a third kind of frontier swept across the nation: an environmental frontier. And the Cuyahoga River became a landmark on this frontier too—a poster child for those trying to undo the destruction wrought by progress in America.
The Return of the Cuyahoga is about the death and rebirth of one of America's most emblematic waterways. In its history we see the end of the American frontier, the growth of industry, the scourge of pollution and the advent of a political movement that sought to end pollution.