Documentary to tell burn survivors’ stories

Posted on 04/08/2011

By TOM EVANS

Villager Staff Writer

WILTON — Fire is perhaps the most confounding entity on the planet.

Contained, fire does no less than sustain life by providing warmth and cooking food. Uncontrolled, it destroys anything in its path without regard for the consequences.

And unlike someone who, say, was saved from drowning or was pulled from tons of snow at the bottom of an avalanche, a survivor of fire’s burning grasp will always have scars, both external and internal.

That’s where Wilton documentary filmmaker Megan Smith-Harris comes in.

“Overcoming medical and physical challenges is only the beginning of a long and painful journey,” Smith-Harris said. “All burn survivors are left with the daunting task of coming face to face with a society that places a premium on physical beauty over strength of character. With no choice but to wear their battle scars in public, it can make a trip to the grocery store, the mall or even to school a humiliating and demoralizing experience.”

Smith-Harris is working toward completion of a feature-length (90-minute) documentary entitled “Trial By Fire: Lives Re-Forged,” which tells the stories of some of the 40,000 Americans burned seriously enough every year to need medical attention.

“And that could mean (medical attention) for years and years,” Smith-Harris said. “Why did I do a documentary on burn survivors? Getting burned produces such a visceral response, and we’ve all been burned. These are really inspiring stories. A good documentary has really compelling people and stories.”

One of those stories comes from J.R. Martinez, whose Humvee — loaded with ammunition and fuel — ran over a roadside bomb while he was serving in the Army in Iraq.

Martinez was the only member of his unit that could not escape the fireball that engulfed the vehicle.

“But for me, the real war started at the hospital when I began my recovery,” Martinez said. “Today my scars are so demanding that, without even speaking, I have your attention. The fire completely re-forged my life. There are no boundaries any more.”

Smith-Harris said the film, which she hopes to have completed by September and then distribute in various broadcast options, including festivals, does not dwell on the fire.

“The film is inspirational, and it’s not meant to be scary,” Smith-Harris said. “It does not focus on how they got burned. We talk about how these people re-focused and re-claimed their lives.”

She said the film has been endorsed by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, the Phoenix Society, and Shriners Hospitals.

“Trial By Fire” is a not-for-profit, 501(c)3 endeavor, and Smith-Harris is “open for donations, which are driving the production.”

For more information or to donate to the production, visit www.pyewackitt.com. A clip of the film is available at www.trialbyfiredoc.com.