This intense short documentary explores the deep roots of modern American excess through the prism of a John Adams and Peter Sellars’s new opera about the California Gold Rush.
This project is both very simple and very complicated, following two parallel story lines 150 years apart. The first is a cinema verite narrative racing from first rehearsal of “Girls of he Golden West” toward opening night at the San Francisco Opera in November, 2017. The composer, director, diverse cast and crew tackle a politically charged work that veers from madcap to scorching as they follow prim and proper “Dame Shirley” (soprano Julia Bullock), and resolute “Josefa Segovia” (mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges), two level-headed women among thousands of less than level-headed men in the 49ers’ stampede for wealth. Interwoven with this present-day theatrical romp is a second, epic historical tale, unfolding in the mining camps, constructed from documentary images of the period. Here we chronicle the often-ignored story of brutal collision between Native Americans, European swashbucklers, Californianos, freed slaves, Chinese, Mexican, and Yankee gold seekers thrown together in the explosive free-for-all of California’s first great bubble. As in Jon Else’s previous films “Sing Faster” and “Wonders Are Many,” the opera itself and the interlocking film stories are entirely fact-based.
About the Filmmakers
Jon Else is a best known for The Day After Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb, Sing Faster: The Stagehands' “Ring Cycle,” Wonders Are Many: The Making Of “Doctor Atomic,” and Yosemite: The Fate of Heaven. He was series producer for Henry Hampton's Eyes On The Prize, produced and directed Cadillac Desert: Water in the American West, executive produced The Island President and Peter Nicks’s 2017 Sundance winner, The Force. Else served as cinematographer on hundreds of documentaries, including Tupac: Resurrection, History Of Rock And Roll, Who Are The DeBolts? (Academy Award 1976), Afghanistan: Hell of a Nation, John Adams: Road Movies, Soundtrack for a Revolution, and several independent feature films. Viking Press has just published his book “True South: Henry Hampton and ‘Eyes on the Prize’.”
Camille Servan-Schreiber brings deep experience in public media, having worked on Wonders Are Many: The Making of “Doctor Atomic,” and numerous Frontlines. She produced a number of films, including the Peabody-Award winning Eames: The Architect and the Painter about the legendary design team of Ray and Charles Eames and more recently American Jerusalem: Jews and the Making of San Francisco, which dealt in part with the California Gold Rush. She co-produced The Nobel: Visions of a Century, was a contributing producer and videographer for the PBS series The New Heroes and served as field producer for The Rape of Europa and Alice Waters and her Delicious Revolutions.