Animated Movie Capturing the 2016 Wildfires Premiers in Edmonton
If you lived it, you are part of the 88,000 who evacuated Fort McMurray on May 3, 2016, when wildfires engulfed our town. If you didn’t, Back Home Again is a glimpse into what it was like.
Local filmmaker Michael Mankowsi’s short film won the jury prize for best animation short (Alberta) at the 2021 Edmonton International Film Festival in October 2021 after premiering and receiving rave reviews.
“This was the first time a short film had its own showing, definitely a huge win for us,” enthused Mankowski.
The animated movie is told through the eyes of the woodland creatures inhabiting Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo. That fateful Tuesday triggered the largest evacuation in Alberta’s History.
It features a star-studded cast/voice talent from the late Ed Asner, Kim Basinger, Bill Burr, Michael J. Fox, Tantoo Cardinal, Tom Green, Loren Cardinal, Eugene Levy, Norm MacDonald, Howie Mandel, Jeremy Renner, Sherri Shepherd, Martin Short, Marlon Wayans, among others, all of whom donated their time for the project. Tom Green and Charmaine Hammond are the Executive Producers.
Mankowski – Writer, Director, Producer, took snippets from real life to relay the saga. We see animals fretting as they speak of the wildfires which began on May 1 southwest of Fort McMurray.
“We don’t know what the future holds for us. We think our den is still standing. My sister-in-law lost her burrow yesterday to the Beast,” we hear a fox telling a news reporter from PET News.
The movie also pleasantly highlights our region’s diversity with audible Indigenous, Irish, African, and Arab accents.
We see Michael J. Bird, who is sending “tweets to other birds and bats for free worms, clothes, and everything that’ll keep you safe. It’s been family, as we all anxiously watched together. My heart goes out to the firefighters. I’m so glad to see that right across the world there’s support for our forest,” he chirps.
The movie had multiple goals, explains Mankowski, but, a major one was to “share stories that were not yet told, those stories were a big part of my healing journey, and every voice in this film is inspired by real heroes and members of our community. I hope to use this film as a conversation starter for mental health.”
And, speaking of mental health, when asked what does he say to those who might feel watching this movie would be reliving a trauma/triggering? Mankowski comments.
“As I produced this film I watched countless interviews, footage, images and participated in conversations about the fire – I discovered that as I heard peoples’ stories and talked about it, I started to heal. This inspired me to create a film that would help other people heal through conversation, connection and community. To those people, I would also say ‘you are not alone.’”
“We have incredible resources across our region and province and we live in a community where people just seem to help others. It is ok to ask for help… I learned from the Canadian Mental Health Association that the process and road to recovery is one that can take time.”
The movie touches on important elements of the event, such as rebuilding, insurance claims, and even that officials have ruled out lightning, and that it was “likely caused by human activity.” It highlights the resilience of Wood Buffalo – “rebuilding, renewal, regrowth will continue.”
“I am proud to have been born and raised in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo… and this film is my love letter to my community,” Mankowski says.
“Back Home Again reminds me that, even as we speak, fires continue to burn thousands and thousands of acres all over the world. As I, and many dear people close to me as well, lost their homes in the Woolsey fire, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of the millions of animals that also lost their homes and their lives in these fires. With homes and habitats destroyed and so much physical demise and mental disorientation involved, it is a devastating experience, but this film is one of hope, dedication, determination, and love; a film of belief that we can restore, rebuild and recover.”
Kiran Malik-Khan is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.