Faced with three menacing wildfires in 10 months-and one of the state’s biggest, longest running blazes ever in 2007-Santa Barbarans have become all too familiar with what firefighting looks like. What few realize, however, is that there’s a literal army of support behind any wildfire fight, as entire tent cities are erected to house, feed, clothe, and serve the men and women on the frontlines.
This weekend, these unheralded soldiers will finally be getting their share of the limelight, thanks to a new documentary by filmmaker Jennie Reinish. Titled Behind the Lines: Fighting a Wildland Fire and filmed mostly during 2007’s three-month-long Zaca Fire (save for a few shots and interviews from the Gap Fire in July 2008), the nearly one-hour film showcases the caterers, mapmakers, chaplains, weather forecasters, litter picker-uppers, and chainsaw repairpeople who work to ensure that the firefight remains strong and safe. Along the way, Reinish also interviews plenty of the firefighters themselves, from the captains and commanders who manage the attack to the chopper pilots to hot shot crews who personally tackle the fire.
“The movie was my response to, ‘Why can’t they just put this thing out?'” explained Reinish, a former teacher who owns the Santa Barbara-based film production company Tidepool Pictures and has been making documentaries since 1999. After being invited to the Zaca Fire’s base camp by S.B. City Fire Captain Gary Pitney, Reinish quickly learned that the firefighters are doing everything they can, and that there’s a whole hidden network of support behind the battle. “I hope this gives people appreciation of how much there is to it on every single level,” she said.
Although the footage comes from the Zaca and Gap fires, Reinish tried to keep her film “nonspecific” because the same level of support arises during any major disaster. “I wanted it to be as generic as I could because those roles are repeated over and over again at every incident,” she explained.
The Saturday, June 6, screening in the Samy’s Camera parking lot will also feature music from the Dreamtime Continuum, whose lead singer Sudama Mark Kennedy recently lost his home in the Jesusita Fire. There’ll be food from Silvergreens, coffee from Hot Spots, and money going to good causes: the $5 donation will go to the United Way’s Jesusita Fire fund and sales of the DVD will go to the Steven J. Masto Memorial Scholarship Fund, named after an S.B. firefighter who died 10 years ago on the Camusa Fire. Remember to bring your own seat, though, because you might not want to stand for the whole film.
In addition to the fundraising, Reinish hopes that the screening-which was planned months before the Jesusita Fire broke out-will draw more attention and “give a boost” to her work, thereby allowing her to focus more strictly on her documentary work. Right now, she explained, corporate and commercial video work “keeps my mortgage paid and funds my documentary habit.”
Her habit, it seems, is only growing. She’s already at work on a doc about the Habitat for Humanity homes being built on San Pascual Street. “We’re following the four families every step of the way until they move into their own home,” Reinish said. And she’s still drawn to the flames. “I swore I never would do this and revisit the same topic,” she admitted, “but the fire thing has kinda gotten under my skin.” This time, however, she’s looking at how the environment bounces back after a blaze, and hopes to parallel that with the recovery of people who have lost everything due to wildfire.
Behind the Lines premieres in the Samy’s Camera parking lot (614 Chapala St.) on Saturday, June 6, around sundown. Music from the Dreamtime Continuum starts at 7:30 p.m. For more, see tinyurl.com/firefilm.