It’s been well over a year since the 2016 wild fire ripped through Fort McMurray, Alberta.
Being the largest natural disaster in Canadian history it is a story that is quite devastating.
It is a time that Var Bhalla can still recall.
Bhalla was born and raised in Fort McMurray.
His parents are long-time residents, they immigrated from India and made the northern Alberta city their home.
For Bhalla, the wild fire meant a little bit more and as a hometown guy he felt compelled to step up and tell the story and represent the people of Fort McMurray.
“I really feel like I had the best childhood. It was just a unique and amazing place. Everyone was so down to earth. You knew everyone. You had your close friends obviously but everybody had that community feel. It was a real Canadian town,” said Bhalla.
Although Fort McMurray is an isolated city, Bhalla found advantages of that.
“That’s what I definitely talk about in the film. There is such a diversity of people and you’re so mingled together, whereas in big cities sometimes there’s different neighbourhoods and their more segregated. In Fort McMurray you’re forced to be one community and that’s what I loved about it.”
A few weeks after the fire and evacuation, Bhalla would watch the news and think, “This is more than just a town about oil and this devastating thing that happened. People are going to come back and come back strong.”
Bhalla was living in Vancouver where his production company, Red Line Media is based.
The first week people were allowed back into Fort McMurray, Bhalla packed up his camera gear, flew into Edmonton and then took a bus back to his hometown.
“I knew that I was going to capture the spirit and that’s what I was getting. People were so proud and ready to rebuild right away and help their neighbour that went through this devastating event. Everyone in the community really stepped up,” said Bhalla.
He knew that underneath all the bad stuff that happened there was going to be positivity and he was really proud of that.
“It’s not a story about tragedy, oil or the environment. It’s a story about the different types of people that came to call this place home and why it meant so much.”
In the film he notes that he had to show some devastation, but it’s not like that for the whole 50 minutes. He captured people helping one another and Canada stepping up.
Major inspiration for the film came from his visit to one of the relief centres, in Westwood high school where he graduated from back in 2002.
“There was a really good contact I got and he’s in the film. He was a super volunteer, his name is Harvey Tulk and he was working so many hours after his regular job, he was putting in so many hours wherever he could help just for Fort McMurray,” said Bhalla. “He’s from Newfoundland but this is his home now.”
In total Bhalla made about four visits to Fort McMurray gathering footage for the film. Including a winter trip to show aspects of the recovery.
He even had a friend who also grew up in Fort McMurray, Matthew Israelson, help in the post-production and compose the score and original music for the film.
This is Bhalla’s first documentary, a true labour of love that he feels will be healing for a lot of people.
Bhalla has been applying to film festivals across Canada. He believes the story needs to be told and will show Fort McMurray in a different light than what the mainstream media shows.
There has already been a lot of buzz about the film and why, for some many people, “This is Home.”
The film premiered in Fort McMurray in May 2017 and after several screenings across Canada, picking up an award for the best documentary feature at the Toronto Arthouse Film Festival along the way, it is now making it’s way home.
It will be featured in the Fort McMurray International Film Festival at the Suncor Energy Centre for preforming arts on Sunday, Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m.