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Recommended age 12-18
95 minutes
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REBUILDING PARADISE cover image Click to play video trailer
Rebuilding Paradise is a surprisingly engaging documentary about the town of Paradise, California. This film shows the aftermath of a very recent wildfire event, and, maybe it's just because I live in California and vividly remember news about the fires, but I found this film to be quite personal.

The documentary details how Paradise was destroyed by the wildfires in 2018, how it affected the townspeople and their hopes of rebuilding the town. A majority of the runtime is spent following townspeople and the hardships they face due to losing their town. These scenes are very raw and emotional, which is good for a film like this. However, my only problem with this film and how the story is presented is that the documentary doesn't really have a thesis. Initially this didn't bother me, until I realized it is somewhat contradictory to have several scenes showing council meetings and the townspeople speaking out against the government's handling of the situation, yet no clear answer to the presented problems. Towards the end, it feels like they are trying to make viewers forget about all the financial issues and displacement the fires caused, by showing happy scenes of local festivals and high school graduation. Those scenes are then juxtaposed with the segment dedicated to how the destruction led to a poisoned water supply, which has never really been resolved.

Despite this lack of singular point of view, I did genuinely get emotional during a lot of the scenes focusing on the townspeople. I mentioned I live in California and have had to evacuate due to fires. Now, what I experienced was nowhere near as heartbreaking as what Paradise experienced, but it was certainly terrifying and hard to process since it was so sudden. So I truly felt awful for these people. Especially since they go into detail about the history and legacy behind Paradise, even showing old film footage from decades ago, which surprised and also fascinated me.

I also want to discuss the first eight minutes of the movie. It's all just phone call footage and news reports on the fire as it was happening. It truly gives a sense of scale of the event in real time, and puts you in the shoes of the townspeople. It's intense and quite heartbreaking at points, and perfectly sets up the rest of the film.

I give Rebuilding Paradise 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18. It releases on July 31, 2020.

Reviewed by Calista B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

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The community of Paradise, California, a town in the Sierra Nevada foothills, attempts to rebuild after devastating wildfires in 2018.
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