A scenen from "Trial by Fire." (Handout )
Don't be deterred by its seemingly grim topic — "Trial by Fire: Lives Re-Forged" is a gripping, emotionally potent, often startling documentary about a remarkable group of burn survivors and their physical and psychological triumphs over adversity.
Director Megan Smith-Harris masterfully interweaves the harrowing stories of a cross-section of Americans who, then-ranging from ages 13 to 31, were ravaged by burn injuries as a result of largely accidents: an outdoor fireplace calamity, a high school chemistry lab explosion, an overnight house fire, a race car crash and more.
Candid interviews with the victims and their devoted family members, personal photos, home video clips and archival news footage bring us so deeply into the forever-changed lives of the film's stalwart subjects you'll likely never look at —or look away from — a burn survivor the same way again.
As wounded Iraq war veteran, motivational speaker and "Dancing With the Stars" winner J.R. Martinez so eloquently says here, "If you treat us the same, we'll feel the same."
Shout-outs are also due "Trial's" other burn community members: sports nut Connor McKemey and his mom, Karin, NASCAR hopeful Harli White, wood carver John Capanna, ex-firefighter and social worker Duane Wright, recent college grad Calais Weber and author and burn trauma charity founder Justina Page. You are all amazing.
"Trial by Fire: Lives Re-Forged." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes. At Laemmle's NoHo 7, North Hollywood.