Australian Wildfires: Stars and Public Donate Generously as Industry Escapes the Worst

The wildfires that have ravaged large parts of Australia have sparked an outpouring of generosity from celebrities and the general public. The entertainment industry has so far escaped largely unburned.

Since September, huge wildfires have razed more than 11.2 million hectares (27.7 million acres), nearly half the area of the U.K., at least 20 people have died, and over 1,500 homes have been destroyed.

The fires, which arrived earlier than in most years, have also destroyed or severely damaged the habitats of several native animals. As many as a billion animals, including livestock and domestic pets, are estimated to have either died or be at risk from a lack of food and shelter, the Reuters news agency reports.

Film and TV productions have, to date, mostly been able to works around the problems. “We are not aware of any impacts currently, however we are reaching out to all our funded production companies to check on them all,” Grainne Brunsdon, head of Screen NSW, the regional film funding body in New South Wales, told Variety by email. “We have not had any requests for support – though it is very early to say this is a final answer – the fires are by no means over.”

“To our knowledge no productions have been impacted by the fires,” film industry regulator Screen Australia told Variety.

That good news is a welcome surprise. New South Wales is home to the Fox Studios Sydney, more than half the workers in Australia’s film industry, and counts a large concentration of special effects companies – including Animal Logic, Method, and Slatevfx — providing VFX and animation to movies across the planet. Further north, Queensland, which has also been badly hit by wildfires, is home to the Village Roadshow Studios at Gold Coast.

Australia is set to be the primary location for filming Marvel’s “Thor: Love and Thunder” movie. Its New Zealand-based director Taika Waititi confirmed that he expects to visit Australia in April, and to begin filming from August. But Waititi called the fires “absolute chaos” and said that they could still affect production. “It seems to keep getting worse, and a lot of the smoke is now moving across to New Zealand and melting our glaciers,” he said.

Some live events Down Under have already been hit. “Opening Night,” one of the expected highlights of the Sydney (theater) Festival with French star Isabelle Adjani, cancelled its performance. “The arts community understands the importance of carrying on and also acknowledges the powerful role that art, culture and the act of coming together can play at a time like this,” Sydney Festival head, Wesley Enoch told Australian media. “Unfortunately, despite our best efforts and assurances, the ‘Opening Night’ team has chosen not to come.” The reworking of John Cassavetes’ film of the same title was due to have been held Jan. 21 and 26 at the Sydney Opera House.

Locals have been less skittish. TEG Dainty and TEG Live, organizers of a Feb. 16 concert intended to raise funds for fire relief, said Monday that 65,000 tickets were sold in just five hours. They are now working with the Sydney venue, the ANZ Stadium, to enable a further 5,000 to attend Fire Fight Australia. The 9-hour concert, will feature Queen + Adam Lambert, k.d. lang, Alice Cooper, Delta Goodrem, Jessica Mauboy, Olivia Newton-John, and Tina Arena.

On Sunday, U.S. tennis star Serena Williams donated her $43,000 winner’s check from the WTA Auckland Classic to the Australian bushfire relief fund. She also signed a dress which will be auctioned to raise funds for the Australian relief appeal. She joins a list of local and international celebrities making donations to the relief funds. They include Cate Blanchett and Margot Robbie, and the U.K.’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Australian tennis player Ashleigh Barty, and retired cricketing superstar Shane Warne.

Russell Crowe cancelled his trip to the Golden Globes a week ago in order to stay home with his family and protect them from the fires. “Make no mistake. The tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate change-based,” Crowe said in a message read out on stage by show host Jennifer Aniston.

That assertion sits badly with the Australian federal government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison. It has seemed to say that the fires are related to climate change making the country hotter, but it has also continued to support the coal mining industry, whose output is a large greenhouse gas emitter.

“We need to act based on science, move our global workforce to renewable energy and respect our planet for the unique and amazing place it is,” Crowe said in his Golden Globes message.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) in

    'Morbius,' 'Ghostbusters' Sequel and More Sony Movies Pushed Back to 2021

    Sony Pictures has pushed back many of its major tentpoles — including “Morbius,” “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” “Uncharted” and “Peter Rabbit 2” — in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the studio announced on Monday. See the full schedule of release date changes below. Greyhound (Columbia Pictures) – TBD (from 6/12/2020) Fatherhood (Columbia Pictures) – 10/23/2020 (from [...]

  • Anne Hathaway to Star in 'French

    Film News Roundup: Anne Hathaway Stars in 'French Children Don't Throw Food'

    In today’s film news roundup, Anne Hathaway will portray an American journalist in Paris, blockbuster director Michael Bay signs with Sony Pictures, and “Extra Ordinary” and “The Etruscan Smile” are added to arthouse streaming services. CASTING Anne Hathaway is starring in the movie “French Children Don’t Throw Food,” based on Pamela Druckerman’s autobiographical book, “Bringing [...]

  • Empty movie theater

    Cinemark Cuts Employee Wages Temporarily After Coronavirus Closes Theaters

    Cinemark is temporarily reducing wages for all U.S. employees while its theaters remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. With these measures, workers salaries will be cut by around 50%. All employees are working reduced hours and will still maintain full benefits. Cinemark’s CEO Mark Zoradi and the board of directors are voluntarily forgoing their [...]

  • Lionsgate

    Lionsgate Layoffs Hit Feature Film Marketing and Distribution Department

    Lionsgate has laid off nearly 20 employees, primarily in its feature film marketing and distribution department, sources tell Variety. The cuts had been in the works for months as part of a restructuring and were not influenced by the coronavirus outbreak, Lionsgate said. No other layoffs are currently planned, and most, but not all, were [...]

  • Visions du Réel Reimagined as Digital

    Switzerland's Visions du Réel Reimagined as Digital Only Event

    Visions du Réel, a film festival in Nyon, Switzerland, has changed the format of its next edition to accommodate the restrictions imposed by the Swiss government in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Originally planned to run from April 24 to May 2, the festival will now be a digital-only event held over a longer period, [...]


    SAG-AFTRA Announces Dues Extension Program for Members During Coronavirus Pandemic

    SAG-AFTRA has developed a program to provide dues relief for SAG-AFTRA members during the Covid-19 pandemic with an extension of the May 1 deadline. “Members experiencing financial hardship resulting from work stoppages related to Covid-19 will be granted a due date extension and an installment plan for those payments,” the union said. “As part of [...]

  • Studio Babelsberg

    Terminated 'Matrix 4,' 'Uncharted' Film Crews Demand Help From Studio Babelsberg

    Germany’s Studio Babelsberg is seeking to find a settlement with hundreds of film crew members following the shutdown earlier this month of Warner Bros.’ “The Matrix 4” and Sony Pictures’ “Uncharted” amid the coronavirus outbreak. The production stop has left many independent film crew members without pay and more than 300 have formed a working [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content