Just 24 hours before and it was another normal day. People ate breakfast, went to work, did their normal routine. But, the following morning on November 8, 2018, life changed drastically for the residents of Paradise, California as a disaster struck making it the worst ever fire in California’s history. That day, the tragic Camp Fire in Paradise happened.
National Geographic’s impactful documentary, Rebuilding Paradise, directed by the genius Ron Howard and produced by the great Brian Grazer, “tells the story of resilience in the face of tragedy, as a community ravaged by a devastating fire comes together to recover what was lost and begin to reimagine and embrace the future” (source: National Geographic). The moving documentary focuses on the tragic fire that became the deadliest U.S. fire in 100 years, killing 85 people, displacing 50,000 residents and destroying 95% of local structures.
Just three minutes into the film and you will undoubtedly be overwhelmed with emotions. Hearing the phone calls to the fire department, the sirens and the evacuation warnings will fill you with anxiety. Seeing the heroic firefighters try to extinguish the fire and risk their lives to help a town and its citizens in need will leave you in awe. Seeing the devastation from the fire will break your heart and it’s unimaginable to even think what the residents of Paradise had to go through. This is the story of Paradise, California and an important one to be told.
The documentary chronicled the aftermath of the horrific fire and shared heart-rending footage of residents who, after a month later, saw what was once their home, now completely in ashes.
“All the planning we had done, still we never thought it would be this bad,” said Michelle John, Superintendent of Schools, in the film.
Despite the horrendous tragedy that had happened, the heart and soul of the documentary focuses on how the admirable residents joined together and showed the strength of community.
National Geographic hosted a virtual premiere for Rebuilding Paradise on July 12, 2020 which included a special screening of the poignant documentary followed by a conversation with renowned director Ron Howard and the subjects of the documentary including former CAL FIRE Director, Ken Pimlott, former Paradise resident and former Superintendent of the Paradise School District, Michelle John and former mayor of Paradise, Steve “Woody” Culleton. The discussion was moderated by ABC News‘ Nightline anchor, Juju Chang.
“What this film deals with is the very practical question of, ‘what can we do to anticipate more?’,” said consummate director Ron Howard. “Instead of this is what it looks like, even a town of really sturdy, rugged individuals, can do people, this is the code of their life, as prepared as they could be, but they couldn’t be prepared enough for this. Perhaps, because of a million reasons – because it’s expensive to repair, because it gets politicized to make those kinds of decisions. I guess in my mind, it’s not specifically about fires and fire prevention or global warming, but we know there are these shifts going on, so instead of just reacting constantly to it and kind of assuming it’s not going to hit our town or hit our region, we’ll deal with it when we can, government will take care of us. Well, that’s what it looks like when you’re relying totally on government and then the next question is, what should you really expect from government? What do you really need? What does society want to stand for as it relates to its citizens coping with this kind of crisis? … There are no easy answers. The film doesn’t pretend to offer any answers, but it does a great job, I think, not to pat myself on the back, it’s what I wanted, to put a very human face on the challenges and struggles coming back from something like this, on a personal level and as a community.”
Alexisjoyvipaccess had the honor of attending the virtual premiere of Rebuilding Paradise. This documentary truly is powerful. It had me in tears within just a few minutes of watching it. As someone who has gone through a natural disaster, in my case Hurricane Sandy, this documentary perfectly captures how you could never really prepare for disasters as grave as these, but what you can do is show support and lend a helping hand to build an even stronger community that comes out of something as calamitous as this.
Rebuilding Paradise is an unparalleled documentary and should be seen by everyone. Rebuilding Paradise will be out in select theaters on July 31st. For more information on how you can help the victims of the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, visit here.