I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started making The Fire Next Time. Over several years of filming, I fell in love with the Flathead Valley and the remarkable people who live there. I realized the dangerous divisions in this community do not just belong to the valley. These are the same conflicts and challenges facing many places: economic dislocation, growth, change, anger, fear, and devastating loss. I believe the people in this story present a vivid snapshot of our democracy — revealing both its strength and vulnerability.
In his 1963 book about the perilous divisions in the country’s race relations, James Baldwin warned of “the fire next time.” Forty years later, we have borrowed his eloquent language to pose another urgent warning. In this one place over a short period of time, we see how quickly a volatile atmosphere can turn dangerous when the power of media is able to spark the flames of conflict and silences those who might otherwise speak up.
What would you do if it were your town? What happens when we stop listening to each other? When do our political divisions make us stop seeing each other as people? What can we do together as citizens to foster a sense of community despite our differences?
I made this film for the people on the sidelines who may know their town is in trouble but don’t know what to do about it.
When we screened The Fire Next Time in the Flathead Valley, hundreds of people gathered to grapple with the deep conflicts in their town. They came up with some very creative ideas that many are now trying to implement. The story does not end with the broadcast of this film.
We’d like to hear about your solutions and share them with others around the country facing similar problems. By learning from each other, maybe we can all be more prepared for the fire next time.
Patrice O'Neill, Producer
Patrice O’Neill has been playing with the art of documentary television for more than 15 years. As co-founder of The Working Group, O’Neill has overseen the nonprofit media company’s growth from a shoestring operation to a nationally-recognized, award-winning production company that is today the largest distributor of documentaries on workplace issues in the country. Her interest in the stories of “extraordinary, ordinary” people informed her work as executive producer of The Working Group’s long-running series, We Do the Work. O’Neill and Rhian Miller produced Not In Our Town (Parts I & II), the PBS specials that helped mobilize national awareness and community action against hate crimes. She was co-creator with Will Durst of The Durst Amendment, a topical comedy show for KQED.