It’s been 29 years since I lost all my worldly possessions in the Painted Cave fire. To be exact, it was June 27, 1990. I call that my “ground zero.”
The fire was savage, starting in foothills of Santa Barbara, and, by the time it was over two days later, it had destroyed 450 homes and a human life in its wake. Seemingly a disaster that I would never recover from, the fire turned out to be one of the greatest gifts I could ever receive.
At the time, however, I wasn’t quite feeling so blessed. I turned to drugs and alcohol to bury my sorrows and mask my pain. Finally, I sought help, and through divine and human intervention, I became clean and sober.
I had been making films for as long as I can remember, working on the commercial side
of content production. Through my personal experience surviving the fire and finding my sobriety I rose from the ashes and realized I had a whole other connection to people who had been through similar traumatic situations. I could relate to them, and they opened up to me with their stories of survival. I decided then that this was my calling. I would make films chronicling recovery from trauma beginning with a documentary about the fire that had wiped the slate clean for me. I wrote and directed Faces in the Fire and won my first Emmy. Then the National Institute for Mental Health began using it to debrief survivors of natural disasters. My film was helping people! I had found a purpose. That’s a huge gift.
Since then I’ve made three more films through my production company ECP focused on
how trauma impacts survivors, their families, and communities. A Vietnam Vets Journey; Searching for Home: Coming Back from War; and now unMASKing HOPE.
I want to level the trauma playing field. Trauma is not a quantifiable thing; it’s quite subjective. When you come into that space with those people you know that this is their trauma. And no one trauma is more profound than any other. I also found that it doesn’t matter what generation you’re from, what your socioeconomic background is or where you went to school. My belief is that inside of us all, we heal the same way. And in the face of adversity, human beings are so strong. I want to tell that story through different voices and perspectives.
I think it’s easy to make a movie about the problem, but difficult to extract the sober hope.
I mean the Real Hope, not the candy-coated hope. I think recovering from trauma is driven
by our need to find hope again.
This is the concept that is at the core of unMASKing HOPE. All the survivors have experienced very different traumas: 9/11, vets, first responders, sexual abuse… We take a closer look at survival mechanisms of trauma. One of them is the mask. We all wear a different kind of mask to hide what’s going on in our lives, and some masks serve us well. After severe trauma, masks initially can allow us to manage our everyday lives and “get things done.”
But the mask can also hinder healing. Masks can become addictions or work, or anything
we can use to hide behind. And it stymies our healing process.
And then, when we remove our masks, we find other people who are similar to us. We’re
not isolated like we thought we were: “Oh, you too?” This breaks the mask down even more because we know we’re not alone. When we find someone similar, the mask starts to melt away. Once that happens, we can move on from it; perhaps as the person, we were before
or perhaps an entirely different being who sees their place in the world differently.
This brings me to why I continue to do what I do. I get to witness a lot of healing through filmmaking. There’s beauty in being able to watch this whole healing process. I call it my soul food. I see people change their lives and start to move on, and then flourish. It’s
amazing to watch, and if you get to experience a tiny bit of what these brave individuals have given me over the years, I assure you, your hearts will open up and you’ll be grateful they allowed you in.