Edinburgh Film Festival film review: Rebuilding Paradise
Ivan Radford | On 03, Jul 2020
Director: Ron Howard
Watch Rebuilding Paradise online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema
Rebuilding Paradise is one of several films streaming as part of the 2020 Edinburgh International Film Festival. See the full line-up here.
Natural disaster. The phrase is a familiar one, used to refer to catastrophic destruction at the hands of planet Earth, in the form of floods, earthquakes or storms. In recent years, though, as global warming and pollution have increasingly dislocated our climate, natural disasters begin to feel manmade. Rebuilding Paradise is a powerful reminder of just how unnatural a natural disaster is.
The film chronicles the most lethal wildfire in the history of California, which reduced the town of Paradise to ashes, killing 85 people, decimating 150,000 acres of land and destroying the lives of the 26,000-strong community. Director Ron Howard takes us into the heart of the blaze right from the opening frames, which place us on the dashboard of car fleeing the flames on the morning of 8th November 2018. It’s visceral, terrifying cinema, as we hear the panicked screams of a family in the car, the forced optimism and calm of the man behind the wheel and the cries of relief as they make it away from the fire and smoke.
What follows is the story of how the town attempted to join together and rebuild, which doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of starting afresh and finding some sense of closure as well as renewal. While the film acknowledges that, though, it doesn’t go into the detail of the logistics involved. We hear about how Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s negligence led to the blaze, but by anchoring the film in home movies and on-the-ground footage rather than bringing in expert talking heads, Howard loses some depth and structure. We meet certain members of the local population, but don’t get to know everyone, and even then, we’re given a cursory glimpse of their personal lives and dramas.
That looser feel, though, emphasises the overall human cost of the fire, not just the lives tragically lost but the many dealing with that grief afterwards, unsure whether to move back to the town after being houses in temporary accommodation or to head elsewhere, away from the Sierra Nevada forest. Cutting that together with a reminder of other blazes that have happened since, the result is a moving tribute to human resilience and the strength of communities, but also a stark warning that more needs to be done to stop these natural disasters from becoming even more of a normality.
Rebuilding Paradise is available to rent for £9.99 on Curzon Home Cinema until Sunday 5th July