Wildfires have long ravaged California but 2018 was a particularly bad year. That was when the deadly Camp Fire spread quickly through Paradise, California, causing many residents to flee for their lives. The wildfire engulfed houses, burned vehicles, and killed 85 residents. Those who survived endured the trauma that came with escaping the rapidly encroaching flames. Other fires, including one in Malibu, destroyed homes leaving devastation in their wake. While fingers might point to climate change and gender reveal parties as the root cause, there are many factors involved both natural and man-made.
British director Lucy Walker offers a harrowing look at the 2018 California wildfires by examining the events of that year and the people affected by the disasters in her new documentary Bring Your Own Brigade. Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of the documentary was how it uncovers the history of the wildfires and how they’ve progressively gotten worse over time. It’s not quite what you expect. The film features interviews with residents of Paradise and Malibu, first responders, and various experts. It unfolds in an organic way which at times can feel disjointed. Essentially we’re following the director as her curiosity about the California wildfires takes her on a journey of discovery.
In comparing this film with the Netflix documentary Fire in Paradise (2019), Bring Your Own Brigade offers much more in the way of context and background information to both enlighten and terrify its audience.
Bring Your Own Brigade premiered at the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
Filmmaker Alice Gu’s new documentary The Donut King follows the dramatic rise and fall of Ted Ngoy, a Cambodian refugee who started a donut empire and the enduring legacy of one of America’s most beloved pastries.
Ngoy fled his native country in the mid-1970s during the Cambodian Civil War. He and his family made their way to California where they were taken in by a sponsor. It was there that Ngoy had his very first donut. It was love at first bite.
He immediately inquired about how to start his own donut shop and someone recommended that he get training at Winchell’s, a popular West Coast donut chain. He became a master donut maker and businessman, managing a Winchell’s and eventually opening his own shop. Ngoy was devoted to his business and made it a family affair. He kept overhead low and made shrewd business decisions. The smartest move he made was working with other Cambodian refugees by helping them finance their own donut shop. They would apprentice with him, learning the craft and in return “Uncle Ted” as he was affectionately called would co-own the shop. At one time Ngoy co-owned over 60 successful donut shops in the 1980s and became a millionaire. It was only a matter of time before the trappings of wealth lead to his downfall.
The Donut King is a wild ride. Ted Ngoy’s story is quite remarkable and the ups and downs will keep viewers glued to the screen. Gu’s documentary does a fantastic job building a portrait of this visionary, flaws and all, with extensive interviews with Ngoy himself, his wife, his two kids, other family members and colleagues. The Donut King is slick, alternating from talking head interviews, to short animations, archival footage and sexy shots of big fluffy donuts. If you watch this film and don’t immediately crave a donut, something is wrong with you. The biggest takeaway, however, is Ngoy’s journey as an immigrant forging a path for himself in America and helping others do the same.
The Donut King was to premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. It received a Special Jury Recognition for Achievement in Documentary Storytelling. Find out more information about the film at the official website.