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Matthew Heineman Directs True Wildfire Survival Drama ‘Paradise’

The drama is based on a family’s fight for survival during the 2018 California wildfires.

Matthew Heineman

Matthew Heineman

International Documentary Association

Documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman (Oscar-nominated “Cartel Land”), who directed harrowing biopic “A Private War” last year — Rosemund Pike was robbed of an Oscar nod — is a strong choice to direct fire survival drama “Paradise.” Focus Features will develop and produce the drama, which he will write, in hopes of starting filming next year.

The movie is based on real events during the deadly 2018 Camp Fire, which destroyed the small town of Paradise. As chronicled through her own viral Facebook post, Heather Roebuck gave birth via C-section minutes before the Paradise hospital was engulfed by flames. Unable to move her legs and separated from her newborn and fiancé, Roebuck tried to evade the fire that was destroying Paradise as a group of EMTs and other emergency personnel attempted to find her as they also fought for their lives.

Focus optioned the life rights for Heather Roebuck, her fiancé Bret Harles and their children, as well as Butte County emergency medical workers — Sean Abrams, Mike Castro, Shannon Molarius, and Robin Cranston — who ended up becoming firefighters as the group became trapped by the fire.

“For me, the film examines the human connections ordinary people make in extraordinary circumstances,” said said Heineman. “Heather’s journey of inner strength in the face of unparalleled and unexpected adversity is one of the most exciting and visceral stories that I’ve ever encountered.”

Temple Hill will produce along with Heineman, with Josh McLaughlin executive producing.

Focus Features is often a factor in the Oscar race, from “Milk” and “Atonement” to “The Theory of Everything”; “Paradise” will be a prime contender when it comes out.

This year’s Oscar race has two serious fall award season players for the Universal specialty label: Kasi Lemmons’ “Harriet,” starring Cynthia Erivo as the abolitionist Harriet Tubman and costarring Janelle Monae; and newly titled “Dark Waters,” from Todd Haynes, starring Anne Hathaway and Mark Ruffalo in a true story about environmental attorneys taking on a polluting chemical company.

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