The Elemental: Reimagine Wildfire team is shooting in the El Dorado fire in California in 2020. Credit: Ryan Walsh/ElementalFilm.com
PORTLAND, Oregon (KOIN) – A new documentary produced in Oregon and the western United States is urging people to reconsider their relationship with wildfires and what they can do to better protect their homes from fires.
The film is called “Elemental: Rethinking Wildfire” and it will appear on Hollywood Theater in Portland from Friday, May 26 to Thursday, June 1.
Production on the film began in 2017 when executive producer Ralph Bloemers and crew traveled to the Columbia River Gorge to document the Eagle Creek Fire and its aftermath.
The opportunities for reporting wildfires expanded after the team received funding from National Geographic to produce a feature film — and wildfires were a recurring theme in the years after Eagle Creek.
“The 2018 Paradise fire, which burned down over 18,000 homes in 8 hours, to the 2020 Oregon fires that affected communities across Oregon and even along the coast,” Boemers described.
The team thought it would end production in 2020, but as more catastrophic fires broke out throughout the season, they knew there was more work to be done. 2021 also brought the Dixie Fire and Caldor Fire in California, the Marshall Fire in Colorado and the Bootleg Fire in Oregon.
The documentary was extended by another half hour to include other disasters from those years.
Over the course of five years, Bloemers said, the film’s essence changed from a story about wildfires to a story about living with wildfires, dealing with wildfires and hope for the future.
“I think we had done our homework and spent enough time with the material to put together a story, a documentary, a piece of journalism that convincingly conveys what the science was telling us and what we were learning from the community,” said he.
Without giving away too many details about the documentary, Bloemers said the film explores ways people can prevent their homes from igniting and burning, even in the most extreme conditions.
He said the film explains the limitations of firefighters and why they can’t always save homes or be anywhere there’s a fire.
Much of the documentary is also devoted to research, featuring interviews with the country’s leading scientists involved in forest and timber farming. Locals from the Karuk and Yurok tribes of Northern California also explain how their people traditionally use controlled burning to prevent massive wildfires.
“I think part of the goal of this film is to show people using fire to their advantage,” Bloemers said.
He said more fires had been burning in the West since the film ended in production, and Bloemers knows there are more stories to tell about how these recent disasters have affected people. He and the team are already thinking about future projects and what’s next.