The Australian bushfires of 2019/2020, aka the “black summer”, was one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent history. It would have been one of the defining events of 2020 had the COVID pandemic not spread like wildfire around the world. Over 59 million acres burned causing mass devastation to homes, forests and wildlife and 33 people lost their lives. This catastrophic event is a prime example of the consequences of climate change but many, including Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison, continue to ignore the warning bells.
Directed by Eva Orner, Burning is a sobering look at the effects of climate change. It’s brutal, unflinching and unfortunately necessary to watch. I’m not sure climate change deniers will be convinced that this situation is real and not caused by “arsons”. But it is enough to wake up anyone even remotely worried about the future of our planet.
Trigger warning: there are images of raging fires and dead animals that some viewers will find disturbing.
Burning was part of the 2021 Double Exposure Film Festival.
Wildfires have long ravaged California but 2018 was a particularly bad year. That was when the deadly Camp Fire spread quickly through Paradise, California, causing many residents to flee for their lives. The wildfire engulfed houses, burned vehicles, and killed 85 residents. Those who survived endured the trauma that came with escaping the rapidly encroaching flames. Other fires, including one in Malibu, destroyed homes leaving devastation in their wake. While fingers might point to climate change and gender reveal parties as the root cause, there are many factors involved both natural and man-made.
British director Lucy Walker offers a harrowing look at the 2018 California wildfires by examining the events of that year and the people affected by the disasters in her new documentary Bring Your Own Brigade. Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of the documentary was how it uncovers the history of the wildfires and how they’ve progressively gotten worse over time. It’s not quite what you expect. The film features interviews with residents of Paradise and Malibu, first responders, and various experts. It unfolds in an organic way which at times can feel disjointed. Essentially we’re following the director as her curiosity about the California wildfires takes her on a journey of discovery.
In comparing this film with the Netflix documentary Fire in Paradise (2019), Bring Your Own Brigade offers much more in the way of context and background information to both enlighten and terrify its audience.
Bring Your Own Brigade premiered at the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival.