Thank you to National Geographic for allowing me to watch and review this movie!
Director: Ron Howard
Synopsis: The community of Paradise, California, a town in the Sierra Nevada foothills, attempts to rebuild after devastating wildfires in 2018.
When you think of Paradise, what do you think? You probably picture beautiful landscapes, wonderful communities, and an overall perfect place to be. Everyone wants to find paradise wherever that might be, but we never think about what could happen if we find paradise, then lose it.
This is what happened to the people of Paradise, California in November of 2018. Everything they had gone up in a fiery blaze that was uncontrollable by anyone. Schools, homes, and even lives were lost in this deadly fire that caused nothing but destruction for everything in its path. The people of Paradise couldn’t do anything but run away as everything that made them whole crumbled into ashes.
We get to see some of these escapes through Police cameras, cell phones, and any other video of the time. The first twenty or so minutes of this movie are something straight out of a horror movie. The fire roars down the foothills of the town, even completely circling a group of people near a hospital. It is some of the scariest sequences you will see all year because the fear isn’t built on horrific world-building or ominous suspense. No, the fear comes from a real place of anguish and terror of having to watch these real people come to grips that death is staring them in the face and reaching out his hand.
But then comes one of the most gut-wrenching moments of the film with a father and son in their car as they escape the black haze and finally see the blue sky. There is fear as they drive through the fire. But as they see the sky, there is a sense of hope that comes from their cracking voices. Their lives as they know it are over, but at the same time, their lives are just beginning.
The movie, while terrifying and heartbreaking, also happens to be hopeful. We watch how this community of people come together to fight the companies and corporation that are standing in their way. They were backed into a corner with nowhere to go, and were forced to stand and rise up. The resilience of these men and women is inspiring. After losing everything, they didn’t run or hide. They came back and retook their homes. It was beautiful to see how they weren’t only rebuilding Paradise, but they were rebuilding themselves.
The good documentaries are the ones that can tell you a real story you may have known little about. The great documentaries are the ones that can capture the emotions of the audience in a way to make them feel a part of the situation at hand. When it comes to Rebuilding Paradise, I can definitively say that so far, nothing this year has struck such an emotional chord with me. Watching these peoples lives go up in smoke, and following them as they are thrown obstacle after obstacle trying to rebuild their paradise. The documentary doesn’t try to answer or raise any questions, but that was also never the intention from the beginning. This documentary was meant to show the tragic downfall, and the rise of a small community and give a look into what they had to go through. It isn’t the most innovative documentary I have ever seen, but it is great nonetheless.
Final: Rebuilding Paradise is a terrifying, yet hopeful look into the lives of a community that lost everything. Ron Howard was able to capture moments of pure uncertainty, as well as the moments of pure elation. These people weren’t only rebuilding Paradise, but they were rebuilding themselves.
Current Tomato Score: 88%
Current IMDb: 8.1/10
Awards Prospects: Best Documentary
Release Date: July 31
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.