Hobbled by an erratic structure more attuned to the smallscreen than theatrical viewing, director-producer Megan Smith-Harris’ “Trial by Fire: Lives Re-forged” weaves together seven stories of burn victim survivors. Unfortunately, each tale is conveyed in episodic fragments, jumping from one to the other and denying any of them their full dramatic and emotional power. The docu’s upbeat finale, detailing survivors’ ability to overcome, is almost relentlessly cheery, but will help sales to tube outlets.Iraq war vet J.R. Martinez, burned in a land-mine attack, transforms himself into a charismatic motivational speaker whose address at an international conference of burn victims is possibly the pic’s highlight. Young teen Connor McKemey, burned over 90% of his body in a backyard accident, astonishes doctors and nurses with his survival, while two other teen girls — student Calais Weber and race-car driver Harli White — provide the doc with emotional highs, marked with grisly photos of their severe condition. Stories such as those of firefighter Duane Wright, Houston mom Justina Page or former oil refinery worker John Capanna would have been better served had they been conveyed as discrete pieces, or short films of their own.
A Pyewackitt Prods. presentation. Produced by Megan Smith-Harris. Executive producer, Bill Harris. Directed by Megan Smith-Harris.
Camera (color, DV), Laela Kilbourn; editor, Jeff Reilly; music, Colin Kasseker; sound (stereo), Peter Ginsburg; associate producers, Sara Allan, Devon Higby. Reviewed at DocuWeeks, Los Angeles, Aug. 16, 2012. Running time: 87 MIN.
J.R. Martinez, John Capanna, Connor McKemey, Karin McKemey, Justina Page, Calais Weber, Harli White, Duane Wright.