Fire Through Dry Grass Shows Wheelchair Users’ Fight to Stay Safe at a COVID-19 Hotspot

Three and a half years after the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, a new documentary reveals the appalling conditions faced by a group of working-age wheelchair users at the government-run Coler Rehabilitation and Nursing Care Center in New York City.

Fire Through Dry Grass was produced by the wheelchair users who lived through those conditions, the Reality Poets, a group of talented artists and New Mobility’s 2021 People of the Year. It was co-directed by Jay Molina, a Reality Poet who lives in Coler, and the award-winning, New York-based director, Alexis Neophytides. The film follows the men and women who make up the Reality Poets — Jay, Vince, Var, Frances, Tito and Shannon — as they confront the daily dangers of living in an institution with limited access to care, a lack of personal protective equipment and the rampant spread of a deadly virus.

As the pandemic progresses, deaths inside Coler skyrocket and the continued lockdowns produce prison-like conditions for residents. The Reality Poets fight back, rallying support from their local community, lobbying elected officials and going after hospital management to try and increase safety and dignity for the residents and staff of Coler and nursing homes across the country.

The film is both a haunting reminder of the disregard those in power showed for the lives of nursing home residents during the COVID-19 outbreak and a motivating reminder of the power of community organizing.

Fire Through Dry Grass premiered at the Black Star Film festival, where it won the jury award for best feature documentary. You can stream the full documentary on PBS.

Fire Through Dry Grass // Trailer from The Big Chair on Vimeo.