Capturing the most intimate moments of despair and heroism during the 2017 wildfires, celebrity chef Tyler Florence’s ‘Uncrushable’ looks unflinchingly at a cross-section of Sonoma and Napa disaster survivors bonded by loss. 

Shot over three weeks as Wine Country still smoldered, it’s a time capsule of the shock and grief that was just beginning for so many.  It’s a movie we all wish never had to be made, but a year later, it’s a poignant memoir of survival that Wine Country, and specifically Sonoma County, can be proud of.

Grateful Table setup Still from ‘Uncrushable’ by Tyler Florence.

Though most of us are more familiar with Florence’s upbeat persona on Food Network shows like “The Great Food Truck Race” and “How to Boil Water, the one-time “sexiest chef alive” was able to pull off a film with gravitas, courage and hope.

Financially backed by Visit California, the state’s tourism publicity machine, Florence was tapped to direct and shoot the entire documentary in late October and early November while simultaneously coordinating a fundraiser dinner for 300 on the Napa-Sonoma county line. No sweat.

“I wanted to tell the story about what was happening while it was still going on,” said Florence, who screened the film for several hundred Sonoma County residents Oct. 19.

Tyler Florence at a neighborhood gathering after the fires. Still from ‘Uncrushable’ by Tyler Florence.

A Marin resident for the past decade, Florence was deeply moved at the situation affecting so many of his neighbors. The movie culminates in Florence’s Grateful Table dinner.

“I made this movie for our neighbors here in California. I wanted to tell a story about the community, about hope, and those that rose above it and pulled themselves up from the ashes,” Florence said.

“Everyone loves Sonoma. Everyone loves Napa. I wanted to tell a beautiful story.”

At the screening earlier this month, muffled sniffles and sobs from the audience spoke to the rawness still felt by so many.

“Uncrushable” is being screened in various cities, and has already shown in New York and Toronto to sold-out audiences according to Florence. The documentary will be shown twice during the Napa Valley Film Festival (Nov. 7-12), and Florence will host a VIP dinner and screening at Robert Mondavi Winery on Nov. 9 with proceeds going to ongoing rebuilding charities.

Still from ‘Uncrushable’ by Tyler Florence.

“As someone who talks for a living, I got a chance to just listen. It was harrowing and breathtaking at the same time. Now, 365 of days of putting that disaster in the rearview mirror, hopefully, we’re in the position where we’re healing,” he said.

Among those Florence interviewed for the movie was Peter Lang, owner of Safari West. Lang is credited with saving more than a thousand animals at the preserve with little more than garden hoses.

With flames encircling him, and his own home burning, Lang, 76, is a natural storyteller and steals the show with his unbelievable tale.

“Bravery was the biggest takeaway. You realize how difficult it is, what’s important when you have nothing left. I just wish we could have interviewed more people,” said Florence.

Note: The trailer to ‘Uncrushable’ may be extremely triggering. California Hope and many other agencies provide free counseling to anyone affected by the wildfires.