The land burns in a monstrous bush fire. This is Black Saturday: Australia's worst natural disaster.
An Australian family cowers in terror as a devastating firestorm sweeps across their land, engulfing their home, killing their neighbours and destroying their town. For those who survived, the years that followed would test them in ways they couldn't have imagined. This observation of ordinary people responding to an extraordinary event offers a tender insight into mankind's amazing potential to manage adversity and rise up from despair.
"We cried a bit when the fire was here" the little girl told her dad, voice shaky. Bron, the young mother was covering herself and her two kids with a blanket, hiding in between the water tanks, while their house swept down by the fire. On this Black Saturday, 7 February 2009, Australia suffered its worst natural disaster in recorded history. A firestorm of cyclonic fury swept across Victoria and 173 lives were lost. Nowhere was the destruction more terrible than in the tiny hamlet of Strathewen. "We are all OK, and we are going to be OK." holding her kids tight in her arms, Bron said.
But a recovery from such a disaster is not easy. Survivors were linked by trauma, unimaginable grief and the weighty task of trying to understand what had happened to their worlds. Local resident and filmmaker Celeste Geer picked up a camera and started shooting her immediate environment. She interweaves her own family's story with those of her neighbours and friends as they struggle to rebuild their shattered lives in the two and a half years following the fires.
"The nature's renewal can be an inspiration, or it can be a slap on the face." For local residents, a returning to normal life is not returning to what they had. Each of the central characters has been challenged to find new ways of living in a radically altered physical and emotional landscape. The physical tasks of rebuilding houses, the local school and a market garden are set against a complex psychological backdrop: raw and fragile moments are captured as parents try to hold their family together in a tiny caravan during winter; while down the road love blossoms unexpectedly.
While struggling with personal demons, the community connected everyone. Weekly gathering on Soup Night provides a couple of hours when life almost seem normal and develops intimacy between the people. And women needle together at Chook Night, recreating chooks that are coloured in by children at the school. "The symbolism was that you could join broken threads of your life together and still make something beautiful."
"Recovery isn't a destination. There won't be a signpost to tell us we have arrived." But a future seems possible. Moving into their rebuild houses, commemorating on the Black Saturday as a community, we see people in Strathewen have come far.
THEN THE WIND CHANGED is a mélange of compelling home footage, delicate observation and thoughtful meditation. A story of heartbreak and love, redemption and resilience.