A couple sits in a car stalled on a jammed highway in Los Angeles. The radio is on, and a newsperson announces: “The curfew will go into effect at approximately 10 p.m.” With a helicopter whirring overhead and a siren in the distance, the couple listens as the announcer relays government plans to respond to an influenza pandemic.
With a few details changed, this tableau could have played out in any American city in 2020. But the scene from the independent thriller Before the Fire was conceived long before COVID-19 upended the world. Directed by Charlie Buhler ’10, the prescient film was released in March 2020 — just as the United States was going into lockdown.
“It was really bizarre to see the ways in which truth is stranger than fiction,” says Buhler, who collaborated on the film with Jenna Lyng Adams, a friend who wrote the screenplay and played the lead role. “We never could have predicted how it would feel to have the whole world in lockdown.”
A filmmaker living in Los Angeles, Buhler, 34, pursues the kind of projects she wishes Hollywood would take on more often: stories about people and communities that break outworn molds. She draws upon her background growing up biracial in a mostly white part of rural South Dakota, where she rarely felt she saw her experiences reflected on movie screens.
She has found success in a white- and male-dominated industry that is notoriously difficult to break into. The secret? Make your own movie, she says.
Originally published in Notre Dame Magazine, Summer 2022.