'After the Fire' Premiering at Cedar Lane Cinemas
Documentary film tells 'A True Story of Heroes & Cowards' of the Seton Hall University fire.
“After the Fire,” a documentary film that follows the story of Seton Hall University burn survivors Alvaro Llanos and Shawn Simons, will premiere this week at the Hoboken International Film Festival.
The film is expected to bring together the survivors, medical team, journalists, families and investigators whose lives remain entwined in the 11 years since an early-morning fire killed three students and injured 58 in a freshmen dorm in South Orange.
“It’s with me everyday, there’s no doubt about it,” said Matt Rainey, a former Star Ledger photographer who won the newspaper’s first Pulitzer Prize for this photos of the men's recovery at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston.
More than 400 of his images are used throughout the moving documentary. “I’ve seen the trailer 100 times, and I cry every time,” said Robin Gaby Fisher, the reporter who wrote the award-winning Star Ledger series and book by the same name.
“It’s changed my life completely,” Fisher said. Both journalists remain close to Llanos and Simons. “They’re very much in my life and a huge part of my life,” Fisher said. “They have incredible integrity, dignity and courage.”
Her book inspired “After the Fire – A True Story of Heroes and Cowards,” the documentary by Guido Verweyen, who said he has been working on the film for the past year. “I have always chosen stories that inspire and make you think; stories about how ordinary people get transformed in extraordinary circumstances,” Verweyen said.
“Rarely comes a story along that rattles and shakes you to the core and at the same time celebrates the power of the human spirit in a more memorable and gripping way,” said Verweyen, an Emmy-winning film director for NBC’s “Starting Over.”
The film follows the story of the freshmen roommates who arrived at the Saint Barnabas Burn Unit critically burned and near death, the medical team that saved their lives, and their months of healing at the hospital, where Fisher and Rainey documented their recovery with the permission of the families and Burn Unit.
Fisher and Rainey plan to see the film for the first time at the premiere Wednesday night at the Cedar Lane Cinema in Teaneck.
“There’s no other piece of journalism that affected me as deeply as ‘After the Fire.’ It’s the most profound piece I’ve ever had the honor of working on,” Rainey said. “Here we are years later and we’re still talking about.”
The film subtitled “A True Story of Heroes & Cowards,” expands upon the Star Ledger series by including the arson investigation and trial. More than three years would pass before two students -- Joseph LePore and Sean Ryan -- were charged with starting the fire as a prank. They were sentenced in 2007.
The documentary focuses on the fire and criminal investigations and includes interviews with the local firefighters who were the first to arrive Jan. 19, 2000 to find students hanging from windows and dark and black smoke “coming out from over their heads.”
“You take this personally,” said South Orange Fire Chief Jeff Markey, who also hopes to attend the premiere. “I’ve been affected in the sense that I never want to see it happen again … Everything we could think of we have done to make sure something positive came out of this tragic lost. That’s the meaning of the film.”
For more information see www.AfterTheFireMovie.com