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.

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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.

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