Media Contacts:

Carolynn Brunette, Managing Director, Prince Charitable Trusts

Professor Chris Palmer, American University


March 14, 2016 (Washington, D.C.)  — The Prince Charitable Trusts and the American University Center for Environmental Filmmaking present the world premiere of When Mickey Came to Town, a 30-minute documentary that follows a local community’s effort, against overwhelming odds, to challenge one of America’s most beloved icons, Mickey Mouse. The world premiere took place at the DC Environmental Film Festival on Saturday, March 19 at 4:00 pm in the Doyle/Forman Theater inside the McKinley Building at American University. A panel discussion with the campaign principals and the filmmakers followed the screening.

The film explores how, in 1993, the Disney Corporation unveiled plans for a new theme park in Haymarket, Virginia, near some of the most significant battlefields of the Civil War. Originally state government officials hailed the plan as a boon for the State of Virginia. Soon, however, local residents, regional environmentalists and national Civil War historians came to realize that the promise of new jobs and the shine of the Disney brand were masking the many ways in which a multi-billion dollar development on historic ground on the edge of the DC metropolitan region was a bad idea. 

Against a 75 percent public approval rating, a small team of residents and advocates joined forces and mounted a campaign to convince Disney and the State of Virginia that these rural and sacred lands were not the appropriate site for a Disney’s “American History” theme park. In less than a year, in the face of mounting opposition, Disney withdrew its plans.

“We are very proud of this ‘David and Goliath’ story. The odds definitely were against us,” said Fred Prince, Trustee of the Prince Charitable Trusts. “Opposed by powerful development interests, our small coalition stopped the Disney Corporation in their tracks. There are many lessons in this tale.” The Disney event catalyzed the smart growth movement in the DC metropolitan area, promoting reinvestment in existing communities and walkable neighborhoods connected by transit-oriented development.   

The Prince Charitable Trusts were established in 1947 from the bequests of Frederick Henry Prince (1859-1953) and his wife, Abbie Norman Prince (1860-1949). The three trusts operate as a family foundation with giving programs in the city of Chicago, the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and the state of Rhode Island. 

American University is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the United States and nearly 140 countries.  AU’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking was founded on the belief that powerful films, images, and stories can play a key role in fostering conservation and bringing about change.