Rebels With A Cause

How a battle over land changed the American landscape forever.
Year Released
Film Length(s)
72 mins
Closed captioning available
Remote video URL


Beginning in the 1950s, a ragtag group of disparate citizens banded together to protect and preserve open spaces near urban areas from rampant development and, in so doing, brought about America's system of national seashores and recreation areas. How they pulled off this incredible feat is the heart of Rebels With A Cause, the stunningly beautiful new documentary narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Frances McDormand.

Their hard fought campaign crosses party lines, overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and illustrates that passionate individuals have the power to influence the entire nation. In the end, the efforts of these rebels set new precedents for protecting open space and shaped the environmental movement as we know it today.


Featured review

***1/2. Offering a timely reminder of how bottom-up activism once worked, this beautifully-filmed documentary is highly recommended.
F. Gardner
Video Librarian


A stunningly beautiful film narrated by Frances McDormand, Rebels With A Cause spotlights a battle over land that changed the American landscape forever.

“We drew up a petition which said only this: Dear Mr President, only you can preserve this magnificent seashore for all generations of Americans. It’s NOW or NEVER!”

–Peter Behr, California State Senator

Beginning in the 1950s, a national movement was born of principles that may seem obvious today. Unconvinced by land developers who promoted residential construction as unmitigated progress, citizens began banding together to preserve open spaces near urban areas for parks and farms — and took the fight all the way to the White House.

Deeply mired in an expensive war in Vietnam, Nixon determined that even if the Congress had appropriated the money, the Park Service would not get it. But petitions soon began arriving in Washington and Nixon knew the power of public opinion and the voices of the country’s nascent environmental movement were gaining traction.

Rebels With A Cause is the story of a regional California effort that grew into an astonishing system of fourteen National Seashores — the result of garden clubs, ranchers, farmers, conservationists, politicians from both parties, widows, and volunteers working together through compromise and negotiation, with the American public coming up as the winner.

It’s a fascinating example of a hard fought campaign to preserve something important to all of us — our public land. And it is a powerful tool to illustrate that the personal is political, and the local is global. Rebels is a feel-good cinematic experience that conveys an inspiring truth about how ordinary individuals have the power to change the rules.

The Rebels DVD is not to be used in any situation where admission is charged, or for fundraising in any form without the explicit permission of the filmmakers and a separate financial agreement.


Appropriate for both undergraduate and graduate-level sociology courses. Students will appreciate the courage, strategy, and fortitude that these people demonstrated to win campaigns for the most unprecedented amount of green space, close to an urban center, in the entire world. Restores one's faith in the potential efficacy of social movements, even in the face of what appeared to be insurmountable odds. Compelling. Informative. Well-crafted.
Jeneve R. Brooks
"Teaching Sociology"
I can't recommend this film enough as a tool for inspiring local change. Although the film tells a local story about the San Francisco Bay Area, it reaches far beyond our little slice of the country. It's also helpful in terms of describing the importance of land trusts in large-scale land preservation and environmental campaigns. A terrific tool for community engagement.
Marisa Walker
Marin Agricultural Land Trust
Filled with personal recollections, archival footage, period stills, and breathtaking location shots, this inspiring program, narrated by Frances McDormand, pays tribute to early environmental pioneers and conservationists, reminding viewers of the role ordinary people played in preserving the environment.
Candace Smith
The visually stunning film weaves the complex story of local, national and state politics, community activism and just the right amount of luck into a heroic tale of the creation of a new national park.
Margie O'Driscoll
Executive Director, American Institute of Architects, San Francisco + Center for Architecture + Design
Importantly, for urban and regional planners, the film is unequivocal about exactly why these lands need preservation: all too often—both then and now—natural areas are consumed by rampant and poorly planned residential sprawl.
Ezra Haber Glenn
Professor, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT
So beautifully shot - you really get a great feel for both the natural world of the area, and how it's integrated so well with the urban environment. One thing in particular sets "Rebels" apart from others of this type: it's very calm, and not unnecessarily dramatized. Almost always in films about political or social conflict, the filmmakers goose the audience with swelling music and filmic flourishes to emphasize turning points in the story. I liked that the filmmakers didn't do that - just told it straightforwardly.
Ed Carter
Documentary Curator, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Film Archive
With the help of engaging interviews, excellent graphic maps and Lou Weinert's cinematography—his Bay Area landscape shots are beautiful—filmmakers Nancy Kelly and Kenji Yamamoto are able to translate what was essentially an incremental bureaucratic fight into cinematic terms.
San Francisco Chronicle
Rebels tells the story of how vision, advocacy, community action, commitment, political will and strategy can work together to outwit and outmaneuver even the richest, most powerful factions. It's a reminder that a strong coalition of regular people' can achieve a truly ambitious goal for our country. That lesson is worth noting, especially given the influence money has on our political system today.
Nadine de Coteau
Marketing Director, Earthjustice
My students continue to love this film every time I show it. They constantly talk about how they take trips to Point Reyes and the Marin Headlands after watching it because they now know the story behind their creation. I have no doubt that this film will continue to inspire future 'rebels' as they engage in battles to protect beautiful landscapes in their communities. Thank you for creating this wonderful gift!
Jesse Madsen
Social Science Department, Terra Linda High School
With the attempts on a national level to takeover federal/public lands, US forests etc., the message of this documentary needs to be seen, heard, taken to the hearts of the citizenry in every state.
Elizabeth Williams
Oregon Shores
It's rare that we stop and think how these open spaces came to be, but filmmakers Nancy Kelly and Kenji Yamamoto do the work largely for us. This inspiring story about citizen action and community organizing showcases the efforts of the prominent Bay Area residents who helped set the precedent for protecting open space and shaped the environmental movement of today.
Bay Nature Magazine
People think National Parks have always been here, but many don't know the story of their creation. This film tells the important story about the creation of Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Dayton Duncan
Writer/Filmmaker "The National Parks: America’s Best Idea"
Highly Recommended. That some of the priciest real estate in the world could be saved from the seemingly inexorable force of development and speculation seems almost beyond comprehension...This documentary details the decades-long struggles of grass-roots activists who fought against powerful development interests. Largely unknown, these figures...constitute an important chapter in the history of the environmental movement.
Educational Media Reviews Online
I found the film incredibly inspiring and compelling.
Marc A. Ross
Executive Director, Rock the Earth
Tells the story of how a group of conservationists, politicians, ranchers, farmers, and volunteers spearheaded a campaign to block development projects like Marincello. Today, the planned city lies within the boundaries of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of the most popular in the entire National Park Service. The recreation area's existence is a direct result of the tireless work chronicled in "Rebels with a Cause." Thanks to the efforts of those depicted in the film, the only real remnant of Marincello is a mountain biking trail that follows what would have been the potential town's main boulevard.
Sierra Magazine
Kelly and her editor/co-producer Kenji Yamamoto cleverly weave archival footage, interviews, animation and narration by Frances McDormand into an educational and entertaining doc, one that draws us into a nervous sweat, with showdowns rising up over decades again and again in Whack-A-Mole fashion.
Pacific Sun
Excellent. The film took us through the stages of land trust and working with the ranchers, and that was really powerful.
Dr Shari Popen
Director, Sky Islands School

Awards and Screenings

Mill Valley Film Festival Audience Favorite Best Documentary - Active Cinema
Special Award for Environmental Leadership, Marin Conservation League
Cleveland International Film Festival
Miami International Documentary Film Festival
Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival
Sonoma International Film Festival
United Nations Association Film Festival
San Francisco Green Film Festival
Ecofalante Environmental Film Festival. Brazil

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Closed Captioning
  • Resources for Educators

Subtitle/Caption Languages

  • English

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

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