BURNING : Eva Orner’s Distress Call to Action


Eva Orner, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker for her movie Taxi to the Dark Side comes up with a burning issue this time through her latest documentary, Burning. That’s about the recurring bushfires happening in Australia which no longer can’t be ignored. The film that had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival -2021 last month will certainly spark a political brainstorming in the top-level bureaucracy of the ruling machinery. She draws the attention of not only Australia but the whole world as wildfires are one of the few things that could engulf any nation at any time. And these points are not to be discarded by the rulers as the consequences are by and large detrimental to all living beings. If not taken proper care of, this phenomenon is going to harm us in a bunch of ways in different parts of the world. This film has been one of the most sought-after fact-finding attractions of the recently concluded Double Exposure Film Festival, Washington DC, USA.

The season of 2019-20 bushfires has brought in the name ‘Black Summer’ in the history of Australia. The season has recorded the highest temperatures and lowest moisture levels and that would bring in far-reaching damages in the future to the areas affected. It has burnt out 59 million acres of land and destroyed 5900 buildings, enveloping almost the whole of Australia in clouds of smoke for many days. The flames reached over 200 feet high creating a different pattern of pyro-convective storms that gave nightmares even to the seasoned firefighters.

This time the Nero was Scott Morrison, the prime minister of Australia, and Rome – Australia. He had no concerns about the happenings around and tried his best to stem the tide of popular indignation. He tried to cover up the calamities and did nothing to prevent it except the usual procedures. The fires took their own heavy toll. Not only Australia and Canada but every part of the world is going vulnerable to climatic changes.

Eva Orner

Greg Mullins, the former Fire and Rescue Commissioner of New South Wales says: ‘’The world has changed and we all have to seriously look into the advanced levels of approaches towards natural calamities.’’ He had his first wildfire experience at the age of 12, in 1971. According to him, the rainforests in Queensland are drying up continuously.

Tim Flannery, the Australian scientist has umpteen instances to quote from his memory. He is considered an ardent lover of nature and a permanent opponent to whoever stands in the way of the conservation of forests. The Conservative government headed by Scott Morrison shamelessly stood against his findings quoting those are ‘Flannery’s Global Warming Lies.’

There were widespread strikes and processions all over Australia but fell well short of any breakthrough from the rulers’ side. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a public meeting that the nation wants more learnings in schools and less activism. When the rain forests were burning the prime minister was spending his vacation in Hawai in December 2019, reminding the people of the ancient Roman ruler Nero and his apocryphal tale of fiddling.

The documentary displays the terrible scenes of the days that were pitch black even at 10 am. Those were the days of surreal
experiences. There were smokes that spread to 5.5 million km. By seeing the newborn babies, the doctors in some hospitals had asked the mothers whether they’re chain-smokers.

More than 3 billion animals like kangaroos and koalas were killed or displaced during Australia’s bushfires in that season. There are depressing scenes in this movie that show the animals escaping the blaze hurt and burnt.

When the Global Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 25) took place in Madrid, Spain, in 2019 Australia didn’t have even a pavilion for their country. ”No politicians learned lessons from our bushfire history and Indigenous Australia! We’re prone to have unprecedented disasters in future, and the impact would be beyond all comprehensions”, says Bruce Pascoe, the Australian aboriginal writer and professor.

Being the largest exporter of coal and gas, the Australian government was not at all receptive in providing a patient hearing to the woes
of their citizens. Rather than reconciling the latest findings on global warming, the authorities have been trying to hide their slips in responding to the call of the time. In a way, they were ‘setting the world on fire’. The film shows vignettes of resistance from the student community and other common people.

The film says about the2019 Amazon rainforest wildfire that burned 2.2 million acres of land. In 2020 Californian wildfire has destroyed 4.4 million acres of land. Australia’s Black Summer took away 59 million acres of land.

Prime minister Scott Morrison although appearing in the limelight of television channels he officially declined to be interviewed for this movie. Despite the proofs in front of him and the nationwide protests arisen he could not understand the emotional intensity behind it.

Eva Orner is an Oscar-winning filmmaker who focussed brilliantly on the devastating fires in Australia. The Network (2013), Out of Iraq (2016), Chasing Asylum (2016), Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (2019) are her previous movies. Burning is her latest documentary exhibited in the Toronto International Film Festival (2021) and Double Exposure Film Festival (2021), USA.

It’s time to be climate-anxious! When ordinary citizens stand for the protection and preservation of nature, climate denialism also goes parallel to that. These denialists stand on the conservative grounds of old economic policies supported by vested business interests. A study by the American Psychological Association found that nearly half of young adults between the range of 18 to 35 feel stress over climate changes. Climate anxiety can cause intense anger and fear. It can bring about the worst in people in different ways.

Suresh Nellikode is a film critic

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