The pro-Detroit docu "Burn" never once mentions the auto industry, but nonetheless vividly illustrates the city's running-on-empty status.

Co-presented by General Motors, the pro-Detroit docu “Burn” never once mentions the auto industry, but nonetheless vividly illustrates the city’s running-on-empty status, with its rates of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and arson being among the highest in the nation. Focusing on a handful of firefighters tasked with extinguishing flames in already dilapidated and abandoned residences, the engrossing, courageously lensed pic also never mentions the possibility of large-scale structural solutions to Detroit’s infernal condition, which makes the working-class heroes’ risking of lives and limbs look even more gallant. Theatrical prospects appear unlikely, but “Burn” is plenty hot enough to spark smallscreen sales.

Spanning a year, the film depicts many harrowing conflagrations — some resulting in tragedy — as well as the arrival from Los Angeles of a new fire commissioner whose unapologetically bottom-line-minded decisions brand him as insensitive in some quarters. Interviews with firefighters, who speak articulately about camaraderie, heroism, adrenaline and low compensation, make the docu’s subsequent action even more compelling. Briskly paced film gets added fuel from vintage proto-punk tunes by Iggy and the Stooges.

Burn: One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit


A General Motors, Goldcrest Films, Apostle and TBVE presentation. (International sales: Goldcrest, London.) Produced by Brenna Sanchez, Tom Putnam. Executive producers, Denis Leary, Jim Serpico, Steve Tihanyi, Morgan Neville. Directed by Tom Putnam, Brenna Sanchez.


Camera (color, DV), Mark Eaton, Nicola B. Marsh, Matt Pappas; editors, Kevin Jones, Morgan Stiff, Miranda Yousef; music, BC Smith, Alessandro Cortini. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Viewpoints), April 23, 2012. Running time: 86 MIN.


Donald Austin, Brendan "Doogie" Milewski, Dave Parnell, Craig Dougherty, Dave Miller, Jeff Urbas, Chris Palm, Dennis Hunter, Terrell Hardaway.

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