“Burning,” which tackles the devastating “Black Summer” of the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires, makes its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival — there is every chance it will spark a political response.
Co-produced by Propagate Content and Cate Blanchett’s Dirty Films shingle, “Burning” is produced and directed by Los Angeles-based Australian filmmaker Eva Orner, whose credits include the politically charged documentaries “Chasing Asylum,” “The Network” and 2009 Oscar-winner “Taxi to The Dark Side.” It’s Amazon’s first original feature-length documentary from Australia.
With “Burning,” Orner takes an unflinching look at Australia’s unprecedented and catastrophic fires, which drew the world’s focus at the time. Some 59 million acres were burned, destroying 5,900 buildings, taking 34 lives and decimating Australia’s unique wildlife.
“I was in Australia then and the fires were everywhere. The smoke was so thick in Sydney, my eyes were watering and I could hardly breathe. I knew I had to make a movie about this,” Orner told Variety.
With astonishing footage of flames leaping 200 feet and interviews with activists, scientists and victims, Orner firmly targets the lack of political will to address climate change. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and a major natural gas exporter.
As the country burned, politicians and Rupert Murdoch-owned media properties (which may since have done a U-turn) belittled and mocked climate change activists. Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to take a meeting in early 2019 with former fire commissioner Greg Mullins, interviewed in “Burning,” who warned of the deadly bushfire season to come.
“Australia is ground zero for climate change. We are a dry, flat country and getting hit hard. We supply the world with fossil fuels and have to take responsibility,” said Orner. “I was very clear I wanted this to be a strong political film and focus on what we should be doing because we’re running out of time.”
Orner sees “Burning” as a companion piece to “Chasing Asylum,” which targets Australia’s treatment of asylum-seekers. “I’m a proud Australian but I’m not afraid to criticize. And with climate change and refugees I feel we are going in the wrong direction,” she said.
Returning to Australia last October to begin shooting, Orner and her crew were able to navigate various strict COVID-related state lockdowns to complete filming. She also found Blanchett’s help invaluable for the film. “We spoke regularly through filming,” said Orner. “Her involvement helps amplify the cause. We have been aligned with many of the same issues over the years.”
“This is a timely and globally relevant documentary,” said Erika North, head of originals, Asia Pacific, at Amazon Studios.
Since 2019, Amazon has made a A$150 million ($110 million) commitment into Australian productions, commissioning 14 original series. In 2022 it will be launching an original docu-series “Warriors on the Field” and “Kick Like Tayla,” both produced in conjunction with the Australian Football League.
“Burning” will be available on Amazon Prime Video later in 2021.