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Couple Working On Documentary On Happy Land Club Fire

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Three decades later, it's still recognized as one of the city's worst tragedies.
The fire at the Happy Land social club killed almost 90 people who were trapped inside.
Now, it's the subject of a new documentary that looks at the causes of the fire and the community that suffered most. NY1's Erin Clarke filed the following report.

More than two decades have passed, but Jeffrey Warley is still chilled by memories of the Happy Land club fire.

"Something about seeing bodies laying on the ground just stayed with me," he said.

There's little left to recall the fire. A tax preparation service occupies the first floor of the building where it happened. A memorial in the neighborhood is the only reminder.

But when Warley told his wife, Tahese, about Happy Land, she wanted to learn more.

"I kept looking for books and films and things like that, and I couldn't find anything," Tahese Warley said.

So the couple decided to make a film.

Three years ago, with a production crew of family members and a home studio, they began working on "Fuego - The Happy Land Tragedy".

They said they want to educate others about the fire, lit at the club's only entrance by Julio Gonzalez.

Gonzalez was thrown out that night after an argument with his ex-girlfriend.

"We have fire safety issues in this country still, and we have domestic violence issues in this country," Jeffrey Warley said. "Those are just several issues."

The film tells another story, one of a community that Warley said mostly went unnoticed before the fire.

About 60 of the people killed were members of the Garifuna community, a term describing people from Central American countries like Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Belize.

"They were all but invisible in our society in New York," Jeffrey Warley said. They just simply blended in with people of color and went about their daily business, and Happy Land propelled them to the forefront and finally, we realized that they're here,"

The Warleys also want their film to highlight the community and its strength by telling how the tight-knit Bronx community has persevered since the tragedy.

They're hoping to get enough funding to finish the film in time for the national film festival season this summer.

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