By Nelie Diverlus
Burning: a story of resistance. Based in Australia, this film challenges the prioritization of fossil fuel consumption over actual effective measures to protect the land. As we learn of lawmakers and the inactivity of those in power around climate change, Burning also teaches us the meaning of speaking out against injustice, in the name of the affected communities surrounding us.
This film follows the growing fires of Australia, examining the ways the nation’s inhabitants feel abandoned. During 2019-2020, the worst bushfires hit the continent – engulfing the nation into a state of anguish and rage, and consequently coining this time period as “The Black Summer”. This film calls attention to the lack of proactiveness in the fight against climate change; the nation’s administration is shown to diminish and invalidate this notion, thus enraging the people of Australia. This film also brilliantly places children at the centre of the movement against climate change – Oscar-winning director Eva Orner understands the true power the next generation knows in demanding change and justice.
The framing of this story is simply marvellous. The found footage used mainly consists of news broadcasts, either supporting the cause or actively against. This calls attention to the purpose of the film itself – this story serves as one large call out against the media and the nation’s administration for continually neglecting the needs of the people. The witnesses of the wildfires also serve as superb subjects for this film, painting the explicit picture of “The Black Summer” in a rather vivid manner. This story devastatingly also serves as a cry for help – the voices of the Australians were overlooked during one of the most catastrophic years of the nation’s history.
Eva Orner effectively diverts our attention to the calls of her people. It is also rather important to note that Orner does not centralize this story to simply Australia – the call to action extends towards all administrations actively denying climate change, and those that refuse to centre the voices of their people. She adequately uses her extensive documentary filmmaking background to execute this story coherently. This is her second documentary centering her home country – pulling from activism for refugees in her film, Chasing Asylum, Orner once again places a platform for the people of Australia to challenge the administration’s oversight of the nation’s inhabitants.
In terms of visuals, Burning masterfully conveys the appearance of a distant wildfire by incorporating yellow and orange hues to the colouring of the film. The landscape shots were exquisite – the b-roll footage consisting of vividly detailed forests, juxtaposed with the concept of wildfires, visualizes a future for Australia that is not set ablaze. In addition, the lighting of the subjects brings out every distinct detail of the interviewees. This film impressively separates the subjects from their background, and we, thankfully, do not see them blend into their surroundings.
“The b-roll footage consisting of vividly detailed forests, juxtaposed with the concept of wildfires, visualizes a future for Australia that is not set ablaze.”
In addition to the powerful message resounding throughout this story, Burning also notably highlights the Indigenous perspective, considering these communities are disproportionately affected by this disaster; however, this is rather brief. In relation to Eva Orner’s desire to refrain from having this film solely centred around Australia, the viewer is able to relate to the concept of Indigenous communities constantly being neglected in movements surrounding climate change justice. The sounds of chanting at the beginning of the film feel almost like a loose land acknowledgement, and this film is seen to have more focus on the rights of the animals on the land, rather than the Indigenous communities themselves.
All in all, Burning is a powerful tool of resistance and demand for change. This film teaches us how power can be found in the generations to follow and implores us to continually voice our frustrations to the same administration that is supposed to care for us. Climate change injustice affects us all, some in more ways than others.
Editor’s Note: Burning screened at the Toronto International Film Festival ‘21, as part of the TIFF DOCS programme.