Drea Cooper, a co-director of this mesmerizing movie of people making life and death decisions to survive, lives in Oakland, California and noticed smoke November 8, 2018 but didn’t give it much thought until his mom called late in the evening: “Paradise is gone,” she said.
His grandparents moved to Paradise in Butte County, California, when he was 8 and he has lots of childhood memories of Paradise. “A few days later the smoke had gotten so bad in the Bay Area that I actually left with my family and went up to a friend’s house near Lake Tahoe,” he was quoted as saying in FIRE IN PARADISE press notes. “People were just starting to grasp how severe the situation was in Paradise, and that’s when Zack and I got together and decided to go out there to see what was going on.” Co-Director Zackary Canepari, according to the press notes, said they arrived three weeks later when “the largest search and rescue operation in California history” was underway looking for survivors and the dead.
Kids on a trapped school bus anticipating their deaths. Emergency workers conducting rescues as they flee for their lives. Residents expressing guilt that they couldn’t stop to rescue their pets. Motorists, ordered by emergency service crews to ditch their cars in late evening and flee to a large concrete landscape surface, pray to see the light of the next day as huge flames gorge on everything in sight – except the concrete and its bivouacking transients. Some trapped by catastrophic flames and anticipating death hope they die of smoke asphyxiation instead of burning to death.
These vignettes and others from cellphone and personal video footage are woven seamlessly with talking head interviews two years later of 911 operators and other emergency service operators into a riveting 39 minutes of story telling about the deadliest wildfire in over a century. Footage of almost everyone speaking in the movie shocked this reviewer that the fire seemingly caught everyone that Thursday, November 8, 2018, by surprise.
The segueing of post-fire interviews of 911 operators and first responders two years after the catastrophe to audio recordings of them dealing with emergencies in 2018 to cellphone and video recordings and back to the emergency workers and responders is riveting.
The documentary ends on a sobering note that this reviewer won’t spoil:. Check out the why at the end of the film.
DOC NYC 2019 Short
Directors: Zackary Canepari & Drea Cooper
Cinematography: John H.L. Baker & Tyler Maddox
Film Editing: Drea Cooper & Carter Gunn
Screened at DOC NYC November 7. Now Showing on Neflix.
Gregg W. Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org