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After The Fire, how communities grieve and rebuild.

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In October of 2017, the most destructive fire in U.S. history devastated the Sonoma Valley. When the flames are finally extinguished, Sonoma residents return home to take stock. Among them is a sculptor whose entire way of life changed in an instant after the blaze destroyed his home and studio. Another man struggles to help his ailing father whose health is compromised by lingering smoke from the fire. Tourism halts after the disaster, causing a Latina restaurant worker and mother-of-two to lose her only source of income.

After The Fire is a testament to the quiet strength of these individuals as they pick up the pieces and seek to understand the ways their community has been changed overnight by natural disaster. 

Sonoma - Northern California wildfires 2017

Director's Statement: 

On a windy Sunday night in October 2017, hundreds of wildfires sprang up across northern California, plunging dozens of towns and cities into a chaos that the governor would later describe as “the greatest tragedy that California has ever faced.”

For the last seven years, I’ve called one of those towns, Sonoma, home. I was away when the fires broke out, but what I saw on the news - aerial shots of burning forests, the charred remains of a structure, the occasional human interest interview - felt impersonal and, if anything, too clean and tidy. After driving through the night, I arrived at a Sonoma engulfed in smoke and ash. I met up with some friends and filmed for 10 days as the fires raged. When the flames were finally extinguished, the national media moved on, but the story of Sonoma’s recovery was only beginning.

Over the next three months, we followed our three subjects as they struggled to confront lives that had been changed overnight, bearing witness to the tangled and unpredictable path of emotional trauma.

We made this film because we wanted to create an honest record of one town’s experience during a disaster and to chronicle the quiet, unexpected effects that such trauma can have on individuals and a community. We feel this subject is more important than ever before; as climate change makes wildfires like these increasingly common, recent fires have erupted throughout Europe, Australia, and once again in California.


We hope this film can provide a deeper look at the nuance and complexity of an event like this, as well as the incredible resiliency it demands of its victims. We have a lot to learn from them.

Filmmaker Bios:

Derek Knowles (director, cinematographer) is a California-based documentary filmmaker, cinematographer, and producer. He has worked for outlets including National Geographic, Netflix, and CNN, and with Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Richard Robbins and Bill Guttentag. He graduated from Stanford University in 2011 and recently completed a six-month fellowship as an Artist-in-Residence at the camp in southern France. 

After The Fire Director - Derek Knowles

Spencer Seibert (director, editor) is an award-winning editor, director, and motion designer. Since graduating from Chapman University in 2009 with a BFA in film production, he has partnered with nationally recognized brands, non-profits, and musical artists to create documentaries, music videos, and marketing pieces. While his work has played at festivals around the world, he is proud to call Chicago home. 

After The Fire Director - Spencer Seibert



Chris Berger

Gilham Erickson

Maribel Guido


Director: Derek Knowles & Spencer Seibert

Producer: Paul D. Martinez

Editor: Spencer Seibert

Cinematographer: Derek Knowles

Music: Sibusile Xaba

Sound Designer: Ben Treimer

Story Consultant: Jeffrey Plunkett

Additional photography: Basil Glew-Galloway, Richard Neill

Color: Framestore

Colorist: Maria Carretero

Post-production sound: Optimus

Audio Assistant: Zach Scheitlin


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