In 2000, a Seton Hall University dormitory caught fire. In that fire, three students were killed and a large number were injured. After the Fire tells the story of Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos, two eighteen-year-old victims who went through the recovery process together after suffering severe, life-threatening burns.
Utilizing subject interviews, local news footage, and stunning photographs shot by photojournalist Matt Rainey, director Guido Verweyen constructs an incredible documentary that’ll hit you like a gut-punch. At times, the film is difficult to watch but the reward for making it to the end is an inspirational (and I never use that word) message about perseverance, determination, and the bonds of friendship and family.
Verweyen, who has worked on television shows like MTV’s True Life and America’s Next Top Model, really hit it out of the park here. After the Fire is one of the most compelling documentaries from the past few years. At just under forty minutes, this film could easily be extended to feature-length.
The hardships faced by Simons and Llanos are documented chronologically but not as thoroughly as one might want. The events surrounding the police investigation and eventual arson trial were touched upon but, again, not to the level of detail as they could have been. Neither of these choices take away from the After the Fire, however. Instead, they leave those interested with enough information to seek out more on their own. Verweyen’s film should be a perfect fit for the festival circuit where it could easily pick up some awards. It’s an impressive film telling an even more impressive story.
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