Sundance 2020 Film Review: “Rebuilding Paradise” (National Geographic)

On November 8, 2018, a fire sparked in the Sierra Nevada foothills and the town of Paradise, California would be changed forever. The Camp Fire, as it would be known, devastated over 150,000 acres and caused the death of 85 people.  While the town and community will continue to face challenges, director Ron Howard, his Imagine Documentaries team, and National Geographic have chronicled the beginning of the recovery with their film Rebuilding Paradise.

Through the course of the year following the fire, we follow several residents who are impacted by the fire, and their role in rebuilding their own lives as well as their community. While dramatic fire imagery starts the film, the ashes and destruction are perhaps even more dramatic. Through the journey, hard questions are asked, new revelations change perceptions, and we find reasons to celebrate and other reasons to cry. The events are presented as they happen and the road to recovery is not presented as a straight line.

The whole experience is amp’d by the fantastic score by Disney Legend Hans Zimmer. The music reflects the emotions of the moments, without ever overshadowing the raw emotions. The filmmakers were also able to capture the remaining beauty of the community and region while also showing the destruction and oftentimes stark conditions.

On our journey alongside Paradise we meet a police officer, the mayor, the school superintendent, a counselor, high schoolers, and general residents. They also face the challenges in their own way, but what unites them is care for their community. While the bigger issues that caused the fire are touched upon, this film remains focuses on the impact of the fire. Because of this, the story is more personal and more memorable. When it is time to look back at the bigger picture, our thoughts have more weight because the impact has left a bigger mark.

Rebuilding Paradise is a brilliantly crafted documentary that continues to build the strong legacies of Ron Howard and National Geographic. The standing ovation the film, the filmmakers, and the residents of Paradise received at our Sundance screening was well deserved.

Following its debut at Sundance, Rebuilding Paradise will be shown in theaters later this year. Following its theatrical run, the documentary will be available on National Geographic channels around the world.

I give Rebuilding Paradise 5 out of 5 stars.