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Ron Howard Chronicles The Human Spirit In “Rebuilding Paradise”

Lately, Ron Howard has had his eye on the documentary format. The Academy Award winning director, long known as the helmer of dramatic Oscar fare (after his career as an actor, of course), has recently been interested in non-fiction. Mostly, it’s been musically inclined, with works like The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, Made in America, and Pavarotti, but this week brought something different. Rebuilding Paradise is a tribute to the perseverance of a California community ravaged by wildfires. It may sound a bit insular, but in Howard’s steady hands, it’s a look at the human spirit and determination to rebuild that we really need these days.

The movie is, as you’d imagine, a documentary, focusing on the town of Paradise, California. Nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the community is about to be devastated by the 2018 wildfires that raged throughout the state. The worst fire in California’s history would leave wreckage in its path all over the place, but Paradise is struck particularly hard. The residents of the town, losing almost everything, refuse to give up, however, from the first responders on down. In short order, an effort to rebuild begins, signaling a glimmer of hope for the folks. In paying tribute to these brave and determined individuals, the doc (and Howard) showcases them as people who won’t let tragedy keep them from living their lives and claiming their home. Howard directs, with the real Erin Brockovich shows up on screen, while Lincoln Else handles the cinematography. As for the score, it comes from composers Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer.

There is a sensitivity here on the part of Ron Howard that makes this more than just a simple made for television type special. He really seems to feel for the community, digging in to simply watch them refuse to give in to tragedy. It’s not flashy and completely observational, which definitely fits Howard’s filmmaking style. His ability to tell non-fiction stories is fairly underrated, as his Oscar success has made him an A-list narrative filmmaker. Here, he continues to show a different set of directorial chops. Even beyond the important nature of the content, seeing Howard put this forward is intriguing all on its own. It’s unexpected work from the man, content wise.

Rebuilding Paradise is admittedly slight, rendering its effectiveness somewhat muted. That takes nothing away from the importance of the material and the devastating nature of the event, but there’s just no way around it being about 90 minutes of watching a community. Without too much of a sense of pacing, you’re almost watching very fancy home movies. That’s not a big complaint, but for a film that has an A-lister at the helm and such emotional events at its core, it’s not quite as gripping as it otherwise might have been. This is a small quibble, all things considered, but it’s worth taking note of. As much as Howard is aptly suited to the project, he also keeps things on the smaller side. Make of that what you will.

Now available to watch, Rebuilding Paradise will undoubtedly be more emotional for people touched by the ravages of the California wildfires (either in 2018 or at other points) than for others, but it should impact everyone in some way. It’s effective, if slight, and Ron Howard’s empathy is clear to see for all. Provided you’re in the mood for something of this nature, it’s a film worth making time for. The documentary will make you feel something, that’s for sure. If you don’t mind a heavy option, the doc is one to definitely consider today.

Be sure to check out Rebuilding Paradise, available now!

(Photos courtesy of Abramorama)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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