Streaming now: Rebuilding Paradise
National Geographic Films/ Imagine Documentaries
 
The Camp Fire rages out of control Nov. 8, 2018 in this image from Director Ron Howard’s documentary ‘Rebuilding Paradise.’
There's a tendency to think of nature as a passive force that, if nurtured and protected, will always be there to provide food, sanctuary and spiritual sustenance. But, nature is anything but passive, as the residents of Paradise, California experienced on the morning of Nov. 8, 2018.
 
Director Ron Howard takes a detailed look at the devastation that ripped apart the town of Paradise when the Camp Fire roared down out of the mountains turning day into night and filling the air with horrific flames. But, it was after the fire that the real trial began for the people of Paradise as they were uprooted from their normal everyday lives and routines into sudden homelessness and depression.
 
Working with National Geographic Documentaries, Howard shows us through the words of survivors – both the sense of utter despair and deep rooted resilience –how a town can come back after being nearly wiped off the map.
 
The Camp Fire was the most destructive in California’s recorded history. It displaced 50,000 residents and took the lives of 88 people. It left almost the entire town a smoking ruin and when residents were allowed back into the area a month after the fire, they found whole neighborhoods burned to the ground, cars melted into the pavement, and cherished personal possessions completely destroyed.
 
Howard’s approach is one based in old school documentary filmmaking, drawing upon the direct cinema style of D.A. Pennebaker, where voice-over narration is eschewed in favor of capturing real moments involving the real people and events occurring before the camera. It is, thankfully, a far cry from the style of late featuring propagandist narration and attention deficit editing. Plus, as Howard’s cameras begin following certain people in the community over a period of one year, they are open to change and randomness, rather than influencing events for the sake of a predetermined narrative. 
 
The film opens with horrific footage, most from cell phone and amateur video, capturing the moments right before the fire as morning was breaking over this bucolic mountain town. Soon, fire, police and medical personnel go into emergency mode as the mandatory evacuation order is given and everybody is told to leave. Residents grab what they can, the local hospital is emptied, school is let out, cars and trucks jam roads out of town. Some of the scariest footage is from local police dash cam video as neighborhoods are patrolled to pick up possible stragglers. Some of the pavement itself looks like it is burning. 
 
As the title suggests, the shock of that day was one thing, but what happens afterward is just as traumatic as residents try to resurrect their town and their lives. It isn’t easy and it’s clear, some people opt to move away. But, as Howard’s cameras follow a Paradise police officer, the mayor (who admits to being the former town drunk), a town councilor, teacher, a graduating teen, and other community members, we get a genuine portrait of a town that people loved and want to rebuild. 
 
The obstacles, however, are enormous. For one thing, Pacific Gas and Electric finally admit it was a faulty power line that sparked the fire. But, due to the mountain of liability claims filed against it, the company is forced to file for bankruptcy. Ultimately, it settled for $13.5 billion and pled guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter. Plus, the Federal Emergency Management Agency requires all burned debris and contaminants be removed from sites before rebuilding can begin. The water in the area is tainted with benzene, which makes it untenable for drinking or even bathing.
 
The Camp Fire is portrayed as but one example of how global climate change is affecting the world. But, there is one elephant in the room that is not addressed. Although every effort is made to show how the town has worked hard to reclaim their community, it ends in late 2019. The challenges they met to get that far were soon to become even harder as the COVID-19 Pandemic raced across the nation wreaking its own brand of havoc.
 
Still, this film is both inspirational and a cautionary tale. Nature will do what it will.
 
“Rebuilding Paradise” is rated PG-13 for intense scenes of peril, thematic elements and some strong language.
 
Tempo grade: A. 
 
It is now streaming at the Taos Center for the Arts’ Big Screen @ Home online series through Friday (Aug. 14). Cost to view is $12. See below for instructions for how to watch.
 
Also showing at the Big Screen @ Home
 
Pioneers of Queer Cinema
Comedy, musical
Not rated
Ticket price $15 for three films
 
This is a compilation of three recently restored classics of early queer cinema, all ahead of their times. The series includes:
 
Victor and Victoria (1933)
Director Reinhold Schünzel, Germany
Comedy, musical
Not rated
Produced in the final days of the Weimar Republic, this dazzling, gender-bending musical romance about a female singer posing as a man performing in drag received limited exposure in the United States and is today best known by Blake Edwards’s 1982 remake and the 1995 Broadway production. Viewers will be delighted to discover that the original is every bit as charming and outrageous, reminiscent of the sly sex comedies of Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder.
Mädchen in Uniform (1931)
Directors Leontine Sagan and Carl Froelich, Germany
Drama, romance
Not rated
As a new student at an all-girls boarding school, Manuela falls in love with the compassionate teacher Fräulein von Bernburg and her feelings are requited. Experiencing her first love, lonely Manuela also discovers the complexities that come with an illicit romance. This artfully composed landmark of lesbian cinema – and an important anti-fascist film – was the first of just three films directed by Leontine Sagan.
Michael (1924)
Director Carl Theodor Dreyer, Germany
Not rated
Danish film master Carl Theodor Dreyer's homoerotic classic is a mature and visually elegant period romance decades ahead of its time. Michael takes its place alongside Dreyer's better-known masterpieces as an unusually sensitive and decorous work of art and is one of the earliest and most compassionate overtly gay-themed films in movie history.
 
These films will be available to view through Aug. 12.
 
Proud
Documentary
Not rated
Ticket price $12
 
In 1981, it was still illegal to be gay in France. Today, same-sex marriage is recognized and has paved the way for legalizing the adoption of children by LGBTQ families. “Proud” tells the story of Charles, Victor and Diego, three generations of the same family who represent the seismic social changes that took place in just three decades. From the award-winning director of “Fatima” (the 2016 Cesar winner for Best Film), this three-part episodic cinema event is a chronology of acceptance and a portrait of one family through changing times.
 
This film will be available to view through Aug. 12.
 
How does Big Screen TCA @ HOME work? 
 
Go to tcataos.org/calendar/ and click on the movie you want to watch. Then, click on the WATCH MOVIE link. After that, it’s easy! You will “buy a ticket,” and be able to view the film. Watch on your computer, smartphone, tablet. Or, depending on the film, cast to your Apple TV, Google Chromecast or Roku. Instructions for how to watch on smart TVs are available at ticket purchase.
 
Why do movies cost a fee? These offerings are new releases and/or not widely available films. If you were going to see this on a big screen, a single entry at the Taos Community Auditorium costs between $7-$8.50. If there are 2 or more of you, it’s a deal! And even though TCA does not set the ticket price (the digital distributors do), it receives 50 percent of the ticket sales.
 
Why are time frames for viewing upon purchasing a ticket different? Virtual cinema platforms differ depending on the film’s distributor. The entire film industry is working fast to pivot during this time when social gatherings are prohibited. So, for now, there is no industry standard and different organizations have different ideas for how to “present” films digitally. 
 
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres in Taos and the Taos Community Auditorium remain closed for the time being in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Until they reopens we will focus on movie reviews available online and through the TCA’s Big Screen @ Home series.

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