Fire in Paradise (Zackary Canepari, Drea Cooper, 2019): USA

Reviewed by Saman David Mansourian. Viewed at the AFI Fest 2019.

A short documentary by Zackary Canepari and Drea Cooper, telling the story of the Camp Fire that devastated Paradise, CA almost exactly 1 year ago. A total of 85 people lost their lives due to the aggressive flames, with the majority of city still in ruins. Canepari and Cooper’s story is one of survival, and the film takes us straight into the horrific event from the very beginning where we are both experiencing the fire as it happened (to the extent of a screen’s capacity), as well as recollections in the form of interviews from the people who were trying to flee sharing their perspectives.  A lot of footage has been provided by the many survivors who documented the scenes with their smartphones. Thus, the film is particularly intimate as it provides the viewer with the immediate perspectives of those going through the event, something that is not common among similar documentaries.

One of the important points of this film is to raise awareness to this horrific fire in order to show that climate change is extremely serious. In the Q&A after the movie, Canepari and Cooper along with the moderator discussed what America would have to do to solve this issue, and unfortunately, we do not have a good answer yet. These fires have become a yearly occurrence, and it will only get worse as temperatures remain high throughout months that are supposed to reflect winter-season. In the film, the fire, along with the other wildfires that have plagued California in recent years, are described as “abnormal” and “unprecedented” by Battalion chief Sean Norman. The behavior of these fires are something else, and the means we currently have to fight them are not effective enough.

There were further discussions on whether people should continue living in these high risk areas. With more fires in the pipeline for the future, and without the necessary technology to hinder the detrimental consequences, should people just move away? Either America needs to do more in order to figure out a solution to its problem, or people will simply need to be relocated. Investments in new fire fighting technologies are necessary, but hindering global warming is even more essential.

To make this a shorter documentary was a good idea, because the filmmakers were able to pack a lot of intensity into a smaller box which elevated the viewing-experience. Sound-effects, along with visual effects were well utilized and enhanced the overall film, as it should. During recollection-interviews, these effects were applied to elevate the stories of the survivors, allowing us to get closer to the civilians. Furthermore, real 911 calls were used to illustrate the reaction of the people, which increased the connection between the viewer and the survivors.

The documentary is available on Netflix, I recommend that people spend 40 minutes of their times to watch it.

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