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A new documentary shows Hurricane Ian's devastation on Fort Myers Beach

A movie poster that reads "Price of Paradise: Surviving Hurricane Ian." Above the words are a destroyed structure on a beach with palm trees. A Coast Guard helicopter with a person dangling from it flies over the scene. On the bottom of the poster is the scene of floodwaters enveloping a home, powerline poles, and trees, which blow in a high wind.
Climate Productions
"Price of Paradise: Surviving Hurricane Ian" will premiere at the Sunscreen Film Festival in St. Petersburg on April 28.

"Price of Paradise: Surviving Hurricane Ian," which will be shown at the Sunscreen Film Festival, shows footage from a surge cam that captured the destruction caused by water forced ashore by the storm.

Filmmaker Jonathan Petramala wasn't originally going to make a documentary about Hurricane Ian. That was until he saw what the storm did in Cuba.

"We were in Cuba for the first landfall in Pinar del Río, which is in the western provinces of Cuba," Petramala said. "And we took a direct hit, it was right in the eye of the hurricane. And that's really when we knew there might be a pretty big problem with the storm because it started shifting to the east and the northeast."

Petramala said as soon as they got to Florida, they realized a major disaster was brewing — and there were stories to tell.

"Some friends of ours who are storm chasers had the foresight to put up a surge cam right there on Fort Myers Beach," Petramala said. "And that cam captured something that's never been seen before: a highly populated area, well-lit daytime hurricane and you got to see what exactly storm surge is.

"And in hurricanes, water is what kills people, not wind — a vast majority of deaths come from water. And we see why we see the tsunami of water that comes in."

"Price of Paradise: Surviving Hurricane Ian" tells the harrowing stories of the locals, including one family whose house washes away with them inside.

By some miracle, they survive.

"We have a unique opportunity in perspective to talk to these people that have survived what anyone by watching that video would think was an unsurvivable situation," Petramala said. "And so that's a really key part of what we're trying to do with our film. And when you're in this storm, you know that people are getting hurt, you know people are dying, we understand the dangers of storm surge. We've seen it firsthand, we've seen the effects firsthand."

Petramala said one of the biggest challenges is getting people to heed the call to evacuate.

So if he could bend the ears of those with the authority to make decisions, what would he say?

"Talk to your people who you are in charge of protecting and understand why they think the way they think," Petramala said. "Don't tell people things. Explain to people. There's too much telling of people.

"And I think that that also causes a reaction for people naturally. They're like, 'you can't tell me what to do. This is my property.' But if you explain to them, and you have a good reason — and a good example — to show them, they might listen a lot easier."

People walk through the devastation in the wake of Hurricane Ian.
Climate Productions
People stand amid the wreckage left by Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers Beach

To get a sense of why storm surge is so damaging, here's what the National Hurricane Center website says about it:

"Water weighs approximately 1,700 pounds per cubic yard; extended pounding by frequent waves can demolish any structure not specifically designed to withstand such forces. The two elements work together to increase the impact on land because the surge makes it possible for waves to extend inland."

Petramala said he and his filmmaking partners at Climate Productions have good examples to point to for sustainable communities, such as Florida's Babcock Ranch.

And major storms are an inevitability in Florida.

Petramala said there are well-built homes that stood up to Hurricane Ian, but the storm will alter the face of the coast.

"We're not living the storms of the last century, we're living the storms of the 2020s," Petramala said.

In a news release, the filmmakers said, “We hope that viewers will come away from 'Price of Paradise' with a deeper understanding of the human impact of these storms and just how close life and death can be with each decision we make.”

Petramala said he can't wait for people to see this film, especially school children and local leaders. It will have its premiere in his hometown of St. Petersburg at the Sunscreen Film Festival on Friday, April 28, at 9:30 a.m.

He provided an update on the film's distribution to WUSF at the start of hurricane season this year.

The documentary is now available to rent or buy through Amazon.

I love telling stories about my home state. And I hope they will help you in some way and maybe even lift your spirits.