In honor of the second anniversary of the CZU Lightning Complex fires, Mountain Community Theater (MCT) Director Peter Gelblum did something extraordinary to commemorate the event: he made a film about it.
“Our idea was to create a living document about the fire and the effect it had on the Valley, as a gift to the community,” says Gelblum.
The result, The CZU Fire In Their Own Words: Fighting Fires, Losing Homes and Rebuilding Community, debuted last month at the Boulder Creek Recreation Center, with proceeds from the screening divided between Boulder Creek Fire Department and the Community Foundation’s Fire Recovery Fund. The film will be shown again on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at the Del Mar Theater in downtown Santa Cruz.
The film is done documentary-style, with members of MCT featured in the roles of fire survivors, resulting in a compendium of memories and local art, wrapped in music and presented to the community it reflects.
The script for the documentary is based on interviews Gelblum conducted with various community members, with members of MCT performing their testimonials.
Gelblum says the film is an emotional response to the CZU Fire’s wrath.
“The unprecedented destruction of both the forest and homes, the vast amount of emotional, material, and ecological suffering, and the enormous outpouring of love and support from neighbors and community,” he says. ”As a performing arts organization, we were in a unique position to create a document of this extraordinary event.”
When it came time to select the stories to share, Gelblum had many to choose from.
“I, and other people at MCT, knew people who had lost their homes, and who had interesting stories about their fire experiences,” he says.
MCT’s cast and crew found different messages and motivations in their roles. Actor Grace Peng—who plays Jenny Wu, owner of Boulder Creek restaurant the Red Pearl—says she felt honored to be a part of the project.
“I was touched that MCT was creating an homage to the victims of this tightly knit community to memorialize the devastating effects of the CZU fire and how the people of Boulder Creek came together to help one another,” she says
Wu, whose house was lost in the fire, returned to her restaurant as soon as she could after evacuation orders were lifted, and went to work feeding survivors at no charge.
“I met Jenny a few times, and she is so lovely, generous and kind,” says Peng. “In California, fire is a part of our new reality. While the fire destroyed so many homes and personal items, the power and generosity of community, of the human connection and love, is unwavering and endures. This film would be relevant to all, but may be particularly interesting to those who live in vulnerable regions that are prone to fire.”
Actor Sarah Marsh, who plays Mindy Lariz, found solace in the retelling of the survivors’ stories.
“There is power in sharing our stories,” she says. “I’m grateful to Peter Gelblum for leading, directing and editing this project, and I’m extremely thankful to those who shared.”
Cabrillo Stage and MCT are the home away from home for actor, singer and dancer Mindy Pedlar. In addition to promoting Cabrillo Stage’s various plays and musicals, she’s also a staple at MCT. She was given the role of Marj Young, wife of Steve Young, who is played by David Leach. She and Leach had the opportunity to meet the Young family, and visit their property.
“I wasn’t expecting to cry, but the sense of loss was overwhelming and tears flowed. The trees were trying to reassure me, telling me, ‘It’s OK, we’ll grow again,’” Pedlar says. “My heart ached for this couple that had lost so much, but I admired their desire to carry on, perhaps to rebuild, and their gratitude that their family was safe.”
Pedlar says the message of the film is one of resilience.
“To me, it’s an example of ordinary people going through a devastating experience, dealing with great loss yet somehow rising above the situation and coming together to help each other,” Pedlar says. “In these terrible pandemic and political times, it’s heartwarming to see the generosity of our community at large. For all of us, it’s important to be heard, particularly when trauma has been experienced. This film gives voice to the survivors.”
Gelblum said he is looking forward to sharing the film with audiences who were impacted by the fires.
“Mountain Community Theater funded the film as a gift to the community,” he says.
‘The CZU Fire In Their Own Words: Fighting Fires, Losing Homes and Rebuilding Community’ will be screened at 7:30pm on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at the Del Mar Theater in downtown Santa Cruz. More information at mctshows.org.