Even though Jeffrey Perez de Leon was a college student in Southern California during last October’s wildfires, the disaster remains personal to this Napa native.
Members of his extended family, Jeff and Tracy Foley, lost their Atlas Peak house in the Atlas Fire. It was a home where Perez de Leon had celebrated many family gatherings such as Fourth of July and Christmas.
“Their house was a big part of my childhood,” he said.
After coming home that Christmas and visiting the Foleys and hearing their story, Perez de Leon said he was inspired to create a documentary about the fires.
“I wanted to start a conversation about how people feel and what they went through,” said the filmmaker. “What happens after the news vans and the news” move on? “What I wanted to show is that afterwards people have their lives to pick up and rebuild.”
Over a half-year period, Perez de Leon produced, directed and edited a 17-minute documentary about the October 2017 fires.
Called “Trial by Fire,” it was recently uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo where it can be viewed for free.
The film features interviews of the Foley family and others impacted by the fires such as the Haire family of Napa and Mike Dombrowski, a captain in the Napa Fire department who helped fight the fires.
The idea for a film comes naturally to Perez de Leon. He recently graduated from Cal State Northridge with a degree in film editing. Today, he lives in Los Angeles and works as a post-production assistant at an ad agency.
Starting in February, Perez de Leon spent about three months traveling back and forth to Napa filming here.
He spent another two months editing it.
In total, Perez de Leon estimated he spent about 500 hours on the project. “It was a lot,” he said.
“Trial by Fire” was produced “on a shoestring budget,” Perez de Leon said. He used his own camera and audio recorder. His girlfriend, Elise Eberhard, acted as a production assistant. His brother, Alex Perez de Leon, managed the sound recording. Other family members assisted him.
Now that the film is finally finished and viewable, “I’m so proud of it,” Perez de Leon said.
“I want people to feel inspired by … the triumph of getting up every day and moving forward, even after something so devastating.”
The film is dedicated to Carmen Berriz, a Napa woman who died in the fires. Perez de Leon explained that he is friends with Berriz’ granddaughter, Carmen Meissner.
“This project was made in a way to honor her, and turn something tragic into a way of celebrating the best in people.”