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Documentary film about the 1991 firestorm, its aftermath and recovery told through the story of a battle to save an historic home.
Documentary film about the 1991 firestorm, its aftermath and recovery told through the story of a battle to save an historic home.
69 backers pledged $6,660 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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"October 20th 1991 — Sunday morning — blue sky and dry air suddenly turned to burning orange light, hot sun overhead broken by waves of furious, swirling hot winds loaded with flames. By late afternoon terrifying images of Fire burned into the memories of those who live in Northern California. This wildland-urban interface fire, the worst fire in California history and the most destructive in American history at the time, killed 25 people, injured 150 others, charred 1600 acres and caused 1.5 billion dollars in damage. This story of an historic Yelland house and the heroic battle to save it from complete destruction stands alone among the stories of the firestorm of 1991."

The firestorm was the beginning of an intensely personal journey for me and my family. My story is part of a community that is forever affected by this unprecedented event that brought us not only pain and loss but also resilience and triumph. Our house was one of only 15% that did not burn to the ground. One of the lucky ones. But it was severely damaged and took over 2 1/2 years to restore. Fire Ruin Renewal is a film that tells the story of the fight to save the house and documents the intricate task of tearing it apart to restore it to its former beauty.

I am so pleased to tell you that artist Tom Holland contributed his image of the Phoenix for the logo; Georgianna Greenwood created the calligraphic title; composer John Adams’ music is woven throughout the film; musician Odile Lavault and the Baguette Quartet enliven the history of the house; singer Francesco Genco raises her voice to mourn the ruined house; actor Earll Kingston reads the main narration and actor Julia Mitchell reads the voice of Sally Edwards, who grew up in the house. She was 5 years old when her parents moved into the newly built house in 1925. She is now 91 years old, living in Honolulu. She contributed unique images of the family house with her grandparents’ house next door (no longer standing) as well as many other images of family from the early days of the house in the 1920-30s.

The film is packed with images lent for use by colleagues: Richard Misrach’s iconic photographic images of the Golden Gate open the film; Paul Herzoff’s black and white pictures show the house as a ruin; Raphael Shevelev shared black and white images of the hillside devastation and the color images are the gift of Nickolas Pavloff. And editors Tom Bullock of Fire/Water Films and Mitch Silver of Audio Visual Consultants worked tirelessly to make it all come together.

The film premiered in time for the 20th anniversary of the fire in October 2011 and has been screened for many groups. Many generous donors contributed to make the film a reality and now our hope is to raise the final amount needed to defray our post production editing costs and support the distribution of the film to festivals around the country.

That's where you come in! Any amount is greatly appreciated as it will go directly to pay the editors, and the hard costs of festival submissions, shipping, etc. Please consider a donation!

Risks and challenges

Making a documentary film, even a short one, is not for the faint-of-heart. It is a tough challenge all the way. This film is a personal story about a major American disaster that happened in 1991. It was a risk emotionally to go back and relive the process of disaster and renewal, but it was a necessary part of my own personal process of closure. Let’s just say it was necessary to bear witness to this both historically and individually.

I am a photographer so I have the skills to manage a creative project, but I am not a filmmaker. I had to make a film because I was given the unique opportunity to use the extraordinary film footage of Ray Gatchlian, who was a documentary filmmaker and firefighter in the Oakland/Berkeley communities. He not only filmed in places where no one else could go, but he came to my house and his documentation of the destruction and salvation of the house is in real time.

I risked much of my freelance photography career for a year to do this project, which was all-consuming. The film itself was completed in time for the 20th anniversary of the fire on October 20th 2011, but there were intense problems meeting the budget despite the many, many donations of time, talent, service and funds that made it happen at all. The whole project has been a non-profit venture and the challenge to make the film on time was met but left some contributors without compensation for their valuable service. And because the initial grant came a year late, I had less than a year to make the film, not allowing time to have it be widely seen. Many local screenings were great community events and demonstrated the success of the film as a story well told. And it has been deeply meaningful to share this story with others. The heart-felt responses prove to me that I must press on and have Fire Ruin Renewal be seen and appreciated by people who can use it in their work and lives.

So now I must risk more time and gather more funding to put the film out to wider audiences through film festivals and to explore additional uses and distribution channels. I have recently met a graduate student working on the sociology of disasters, who wants to use the film in her PhD dissertation, a therapist who wants to have it for a discussion of personal disasters in mid-life and an agency which can use it for meetings on fire prevention. Kickstarter can help get this new phase of the film underway.

The challenges continue! Risks, yes, but no regrets.

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    Pledge $15 or more About $15

    We will put your name on the website as a supporter of our documentary and be eternally grateful for your support!

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    Acknowledgment on our website, plus a copy of the DVD.

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    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    Acknowledgment on our website, a copy of the DVD, plus an assortment of 6 notecards with landscape images by the photographer Margaretta Mitchell.

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    Acknowledgment on our website, 2 packages of notecards and a copy of the DVD.

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    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    All of the above, plus a signed limited edition photogravure of Live Oaks Intertwined (an image that appears in the film) by Margaretta Mitchell, printed on 16x20 etching paper.

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    Pledge $800 or more About $800

    All of the above, plus a signed limited edition gelatin silver print of Live Oaks Intertwined (an image that appears in the film) by Margaretta Mitchell. A 16x20 image mounted on 20x24 museum board.

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    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000

    All of the above, plus a chat via phone or skype with the artist Margaretta Mitchell

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    Pledge $2,000 or more About $2,000

    All of the above, and a meeting with Margaretta Mitchell and visit to the restored home featured in the film (in Berkeley, CA).

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Funding period

- (30 days)