Message from Paradise

The film starts 50 years after Nov. 8, 2018, the day the town of Paradise was leveled by the Camp Fire. The narrator harkens back to the time before blaze, when residents lived in isolation or were suspicious of their neighbors. The disaster, the narrator recalls, changed the culture on and around the Ridge. Neighbors helped neighbors. Homes were opened up to survivors. And the town rebuilt in a more sustainable fashion, favoring local goods to corporate greed.

The short film, A Message from the Future of Paradise, was created by Allen Myers and will be one of dozens of eco-themed films from around the world screened during The Earth Day Film Festival, which runs March 12-19 at the Pageant Theatre and other venues in Chico (see infobox). Special virtual reality presentations also are scheduled via University of the Pacific’s Media X program.

Myers, a filmmaker and community organizer, was born and raised in Paradise and resides in Grass Valley. He founded and serves as director of the festival, which is in its sixth year and third in Chico. Myers told the CN&R that the event’s organizers this year have aimed to use the narrative power of film to inspire audiences to fall in love with the Earth and move folks to action.

To that end, the festival has partnered with several service-based organizations, such as the Rebuild Paradise Foundation, the Camp Fire Restoration Project, Chico State, the local chapter of the Sunrise Movement and 350 Butte County. During the event’s capstone event March 19, the documentary Not If, But When: Wildfire Solutions, a look at how to confront the rising risk of wildfires, will be screened—followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers and local fire experts.

“Film is a powerful tool,” Myers said, “to show not only where we are and where we’ve been, but [also] where we can go.”

For Myers, the week-long event is personal. His mother was born in Paradise, too, and the home he grew up in was destroyed. Myers said in the wake of the fire, he has looked at rekindling old relationships and reconnecting with his hometown.

“I just can’t imagine being anywhere else and doing this,” he said. “The work feels incredibly purposeful.”

In Paradise, The Earth Day Film Festival also will present a workshop (March 15 at 2 p.m. at Paradise Alliance Church) featuring Charles Durrett, a Nevada City-based architect and author, exploring how the concept of cohousing developments—intentional communities of private homes built around shared spaces—can be a part of the town’s post-Camp Fire rebuild.

Durrett, who authored Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities, said such multifamily neighborhoods include private homes with their own kitchens and living spaces, but also substantial common areas such as dining rooms, child care facilities, workshops, guest rooms and music spaces, among others.

In Chico, for example, the cohousing neighborhood Valley Oaks Village, located near Forest Avenue, was established in 1996 (see “A life together,” Greenways, May 12, 2016). Developments, he said, typically include a common building that residents share more often than those seen in condominium projects.

Durrett, who lives in a cohousing neighborhood comprising about 80 residents, said his common house there typically sees about 450 “people hours” per week.

“It fosters community—on steroids,” he said. “Where people support each other.”

For example, Durrett recalled the wife of an elderly man who suffered a fall calling on her neighbors to help pick him up. He said in other cases, in-depth teaching and learning happens within the community, with residents sharing their expertise and knowledge.

“It’s like a village in that way,” he said.

The custom communities also allow residents to have a substantial role in the planning and management of their cohousing neighborhood, facilitating teamwork and even shortening the amount of time to complete a housing project, Durrett said. A recent cohousing development in Cotati—about an hour north of San Francisco—was completed in about three years, for example. More traditional projects surrounding that community were completed in five to seven years.

A town such as Paradise, which lost about 11,000 homes in the fire, must imagine a variety of ways to rebuild, Durrett said. Neighborhoods comprising traditional, single-family homes likely will still dominate development on the Ridge, he said, but cohousing projects could offer an alternative that helps survivors tackle the rebuild together, instead of on their own. The workshop, Durrett added, will attempt to show survivors options they may not have considered, from housing alternatives to political approaches involved with the rebuild effort.

But the first step, he said, is to gain inspiration.

“That’s why people should go to the film festival,” Durrett said.