When filmmaker Matt Johnson visited Pagosa Springs this past June, he made sure to bring his camera along to capture the beauty of the San Juan National Forest.
But much to his surprise, the film he ended up with wasn't the one he planned on making.
Less than two weeks before Matt arrived on June 15, a string of wildfires began to burn just 15 miles north of his vacation destination. The fire was the result of a lightning strike. (According to the National Interagency Fire Center, while humans cause more fires than lightning strikes, the latter are responsible for a higher number of acreage destroyed.)
"It was a little terrifying," Matt told me, describing his experience waking up in a valley thick with smoke. Two fires blazed within three miles of the valley where he was staying. "The visibility was so low in the mornings that you could only see about thirty feet in front of you."
Matt started to consider the power of the destruction that surrounded him. He thought that he should turn on his camera to capture whatever it was that was heading his way.
"Every time you see disaster footage, there's always a dark, shaky quality to it," he told me. But what Matt witnessed in Southwestern Colorado was the "sweeping, grandiose manner" in which nature overwhelms herself. This is how he wanted to memorialize the wildfire he witnessed during his seven-day stay in Pagosa Springs.
Matt's film is a time-lapse video, which means it compresses a long event -0 the movement of clouds, the rotation of the earth -- into a short video clip. Matt explained it to me this way: "Any video you've ever watched is made up of a series of still images presented so quickly that whatever's been filmed looks like it's moving."
Time-lapse films work the same way, with one difference.
Instead of being filmed at 24 frames per second -- which is the speed at which most videos are typically recorded -- Matt's film was captured at one frame per two seconds. Many of the clips you'll see took place over the span of 20-30 minutes. Matt then took these clips and compressed them into 10-20 second timeframes for his video. (Relax -- there won't be a math quiz!)
By condensing the hours-long footage into short clips, Matt was able to capture the eerie, tireless way a wildfire stalks any and every sign of life in its path.
To me, the most haunting aspect of this film -- apart from the Salomon Lighthelm song that accompanies it -- is the way Matt captures the innocence of Pagosa Springs mere hours before it's overtaken by rumors of a fast-approaching inferno.
Watch Matt Johnson's incredible video below.
*According to U.S. News, as of August 21 more than 40 wildfires remain active and uncontained. On Tuesday, the National Interagency Fire Center augmented its level of preparedness to the highest it's been in five years. More than $1 billion dollars have been spent and almost 18,000 workers deployed to fight the 33,000 fires that have blazed so far this year.
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