Boland Hall fire documentary premieres today

The lives of countless members of the Seton Hall community were forever changed on January 19, 2000 with a fire that consumed much of Boland Hall, killing three students and injuring 58 others.

A new documentary, “After the Fire” tells the story of two young men who were severely burned, Alvaro Llanos and Shawn Simons, as they recover from their injuries and try to heal both physically and spiritually.

The film, directed by Emmy-winning Guido Verweyen, premieres on June 8 at the Hoboken International Film Festival.

“I definitely took an inspirational angle on it,” said Verweyen.

The premiere is expected to draw survivors, medical team members, fire investigators as well as journalist Robin Gaby Fisher, who was a Pulitzer finalist for her coverage of the story with the Star-Ledger. Photographer Matt Rainey, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his documentation of Simons and Llanos’ recovery alongside Fisher, is also expected to attend.

“It seems like it going to be a full house and like a lot of the participants in the film are going to come out,” Verweyen said. “That is unusual, and I am grateful for it.”

Other than documenting the healing process of two of the most severely-burned victims of the fire (burns covered more than 50 percent of Llanos’ body) it also chronicles the search for Joseph LePore and Sean Ryan—the two arsonists who started the fire as a prank—and includes pictures, video and interviews.

“Since making the film and meeting everyone involved with the fire, I look at life very differently,” Verweyen said.

It was Fisher’s book, “After the Fire – A True Story of Heroes and Cowards,” that inspired Verweyen to make the film.

“I have always chosen stories that inspire and make you think; stories about how ordinary people get transformed in extraordinary circumstances,” he said. “Shawn and Alvaro are true heroes by definition and their story needs to be continuously told.”

Verweyen has been working in film for the past 15 years after graduating from the American Film Institute.

“I always had a knack for the real and when the first documentary I shot as a Director of Photography was Oscar nominated, I felt inspired to continue,” he said.

Other directing credits include NBC’s “Staring Over” for which he won an Emmy in 2005, as well as “America’s Next Top Model,” “Tim Gunn’s Guide To Style” on Bravo and “Dog Town” for National Geographic.

According to AfterTheFireMovie.com, “Ultimately, it’s Shawn’s and Alvaro’s lives after the fire that make this story so unforgettable. Their loyalty to each other and their resolve to live their best lives, despite the tragedy, will touch many like no other.”

The film will be screened at Cedar Lane Cinemas at 503 Cedar Lane in Teaneck tonight at 8. Tickets are $11 and can be purchased in advance at the festival’s website: hobokeninternationalfilmfestival.com.

Alyana Alfaro can be reached at alyana.alfaro@student.shu.edu.

Author: Staff Writer

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