'We're stronger now:' Celebrity chef screens debut film on Wine Country fire destruction, recovery

- A new documentary about the North Bay firestorms comes from someone known more for food than film. 

Celebrity Chef Tyler Florence created the movie titled "Uncrushable." 

Friday night, a few hundred people attended a free screening, following a tourism business forum in Santa Rosa. 

"Nobody really knew what to do, nobody knew how big the fire was," Florence told the audience before the lights dimmed. 

The TV chef and restaurateur lives in Marin County, and soon after the October 2017 disaster, he went north to help feed people and fund-raise for Napa and Sonoma counties.  

"There are a lot of people in the film who are in this room tonight," he said, inviting some of his interviewees onstage. 

"Uncrushable" was shot as the fires still smoldered, and as Florence was organizing a big outdoor dinner to raise money for fire relief. 

"It's special to show it in Santa Rosa," Florence told KTVU, "because these are the people I made it for."

The 72-minute documentary is both harrowing and inspiring, chronicling the catastrophe and also the recovery. 

Florence interviewed elected officials, first responders, and fire survivors, some of them in the wine industry. 

"I'm very excited about sharing this story, it's a very personal story and it's my first film," said Florence, noting that the both cooking and storytelling are creative. "It's all a recipe in a way right? You have to decided what you're going to make."  

State and county tourism officials, who hosted the screening, said they are grateful for Florence's longstanding support. 

He appears as an ambassador for California in many ads and marketing materials, well before the fires. 

"He just wanted to go deeper and he did," said Caroline Beteta, President of Visit California, "and now we introduce him not just as chef but filmmaker!"  

Before the screening, a panel from the hospitality industry spoke of the need to show the world that Northern California is not in sad shape, but more spirited than ever, and still inviting.   

"We need travelers to come back to Sonoma County, to experience and enjoy the things people love here," said Claudia Vecchio, President of Sonoma County Tourism.

Vecchio says tourism losses are difficult to quantify because hotel bookings have remained strong through the year. 

Misleading, because they have been occupied by fire and police personnel, evacuees, then construction workers.  

"It is a false sense of security for the tourism industry," Vecchio told KTVU, "because when we do research and ask people about their intention to travel to California and Sonoma County, it's still very challenged."   

"Uncrushable" was shot in three weeks, and is making the rounds of film festivals. 

"I really feel that we're stronger now," Florence told the audience, "and we're taking what happened to us and showing it to others so it doesn't happen to them."

The documentary is both cautionary tale and a tribute to a community overcoming tragedy. 

"Rising to the occasion and capturing a great story is something I'm very, very proud of," Florence told KTVU, "and looking forward, this is definitely not my last film."
 

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