Smoky ruins in a Paradise neighborhood that was demolished by the Camp Fire. Photo: Elissa Harrington
PARADISE, Calif. - Hollywood filmmaker and actor Ron Howard believes in the resiliency of Paradise fire victims and their ability to rebuild their lives following the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.
And he wants you to as well.
Howard, 64, best known for his early roles as Opie Taylor on "The Andy Griffith Show" and Richie Cunningham on "Happy Days," has directed films for 30 years, and is currently working a documentary about the Camp Fire.
It’s called “Believe in Paradise.”
He arrived in Paradise last weekend and has spent the past several days visiting the devastation, getting to know people who lost everything in the fire, talking to firefighters, school officials, students and teachers.
The Paradise Post newspaper first reported the story of Howard’s project and his visit to Paradise and neighboring communities.
Howard has a loose connection to the town of Paradise. He has been married to actress Cheryl Alley for more than 40 years and Alley’s mother lived in Paradise about 20 years ago. The Hollywood couple also has relatives in the city of Redding, though Howard hadn’t been to Paradise in a long time.
But when his longtime assistant at Imagine Entertainment mentioned the idea of a documentary about the fire and what the next year looks like for the town and its residents, Howard said he pitched the idea to the documentary side of his production company.
“They thought it was a strong idea, strong enough that on our own we sent up a team to start covering it and meeting people,” Howard told the Paradise Post newspaper.
But Howard, who has produced and directed dozens of movies and television shows, needed to see the devastation for himself.
“It’s everything that I thought it would be. Nonetheless, you have to see it to really believe it,” he told the Paradise Post. “And you have to talk to the people to really feel the level of both the inspiration and, also, the struggle.”
Howard called fire victim’s ability to cope and rebuild their lives following the disaster, “impressive.”
Earlier this week, Howard met with Paradise Unified School District Superintendent Michelle John, who took the filmmaker and his small crew to Durham Elementary School which is currently housing students from neighboring Ponderosa Elementary School.
Several buildings at Ponderosa were destroyed by the fire and the majority of its students lost their homes as well, said Ponderosa Principal Ed Gregorio, who was interviewed by Howard about how the school community is currently coping.
Gregorio told Howard about how they were working to bring a sense of normalcy back to the students while also creating an “environment of joy and caring.”
Howard then turned his questioning to their long-term recovery and rebuilding needs.
“That was a great question because that is going to be a great challenge,” Gregorio told KTVU Wednesday.
Gregorio, who also lost his own home in Paradise, continued.
“We definitely appreciate all the contributions that have been made so far, but what we are hoping for is long-term investments in our school and our community,’’ Gregorio said. “We just need to have people who believe in us, our cause and our efforts, who will invest time and resources in the rebuilding.”