TIFF Review – Burning
If you are already anxious about climate change and its visible effects on our Earth, you may want to avoid watching Burning (2021). It illustrates the continued strain that human activity places on the planet. Director Eva Orner has taken it upon herself to demonstrate in fiery detail what climate change can do to a large country and its citizens.
Burning covers the 2019 to 2020 bush fire season in Australia. The scale of bush fires during that season was unlike anything anyone had seen, even seasoned firefighters. The documentary uses interviews with firefighters, authors, journalists, scientists, and activists to describe and talk about what could not be shown in the video footage. Climate change was not something new to Australia, and as the years progressed, the environment gave its people clues to what was inevitably coming if nothing was done to change our destructive ways. Satellite images of the fires’ spread grounded the video footage back to something that could be compared independently.
The bush fires from 2019 to 2020 were not the first push for climate change. Australia had under a previous government a climate change commissioner. With the election of Scott Morrison as Australia’s Prime Minister, climate change became a dirty word. Morrison would go to great lengths not to mention the phrase and continue to promote fossil fuels, even after the havoc of the worst fires ever seen in the country. Like with the US, there are television channels owned by Rupert Murdoch and are viewed as the “Fox News” of Australia. These channels lead the charge on disinformation in respect to climate change. Climate change deniers are aplenty in Australia, even in the face of a scorched land and people who have lost everything.
The most disturbing thing shown and described in this documentary is Australia’s rainforests burning. These are forests that have existed since the age of dinosaurs and have never burned. During that year, they did. The rain did not fall that year enough to sustain these environments leading to vegetation drying out, the perfect combination for a fire to take hold. This lack of rain is the same story for other areas of the country. Whole towns that had never been touched by fires burned to ash, much to the disbelief of their long-time residents.
Being a scientist, I did not have to be convinced about climate change. That being said, I don’t know if climate change deniers will come away with a difference in their belief. This documentary is not an unbiased, scientific look at what happened during that season. Those people interviewed are not on the fence about its existence. I will give credit to Orner for wanting to interview Morrison, even though he declined. However, his repeated actions already answered any question that Orner would ask him.
Personally, the most far-fetched segment of the film was the description of the placentas of premature babies whose mothers had inhaled smoke that had migrated from the fires to the large cities. A woman describes the placentas as ashy and grey. There is no scientific evidence or any expert interviewed about the state of these placentas, and the inclusion of this subject matter took away from the film’s impact.
Burning takes a remarkable and terrifying look at what happened to Australia before, during, and after the worst bush fires ever seen. While video footage and bystander interviews can mostly be seen as the truth, the documentary is biased but at least does nothing to hide it. Like The Rescue (2021), I can remember seeing the footage of the fires and even donating to a koala rehab center. Still, the severity of the fires did not get translated to other countries. Burning illustrates what will continue to happen if we do not do a course correction of our emission of fossil fuels and the warming of the planet. It is a sobering view of our future.