A Fire Inside
Nathan Barnden, Brendon O’Connor, Shane Fitzsimmons, John Brogden
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…horrific images and the heartbreaking moments are balanced against the idea that humans are able to be selfless and that it is through others that we are able to heal…chooses to focus on the people rather than the fires themselves or the politics surrounding the chaos.
The Australian ‘Black Summer’ bushfires of 2019 and early 2020 were devastating, burning almost 19 million hectares of Australian land, killing at least 34 people and destroying almost 6000 buildings. When they came to an end, a nation sighed in relief and moved on. But for the firefighters and the people affected, the end of the fires marked the beginning of their personal battles.
Directed by Justin Krook and Luke Mazzaferro, A Fire Inside gives us an insight into the minds of some of the people that braved the fires. The stories told include firefighter Nathan Barnden’s who, in the midst of almost certain death, went to a distress call and saved a family from a burning house only to return home to learn his uncle and cousin had died. There’s also Brendon O’Connor’s story, the captain of the RFS in Balmoral, who, despite calls to evacuate his village, stayed put and saved his village from annihilation only to return home at the end and split up with his wife of over 20 years.
The first third of the movie is dedicated to telling these heroic stories of the volunteer firefighters risking their lives for their country. There are truly terrifying scenes in which the fire is characterised as a living, breathing thing that groans and moves and devours anything in its path. Whether this be humans, land, buildings or animals. As one interviewee puts it, “It was like walking into an apocalypse”.
The next two thirds are dedicated to telling the story of the struggle that these people faced as the fires came to an end. Often, the film compares the trauma that the surviving firefighters faced to soldiers at war. Barnden at one point says he continued fighting the fires racked with guilt that his uncle and cousin didn’t make it and that he was still alive. A fitting comparison to the survivors’ guilt that soldiers feel when they come home.
Often, we see calming scenes of the heroes as they drink a beer, or drive a car or make toast. Suddenly, this is interrupted by crackling sounds as the filmmakers bring us inside the minds of these people and show us what is happening beneath the surface. Horrific images of the fires flash across the screen and we are given a glimpse of what these people are enduring. They may seem calm on the surface, but underneath there is a fire that is still blaring.
There are devastatingly emotional scenes in which the interviewees tear up mid-sentence as they recall some of the stories. Most heartbreaking are the images inside the funerals of some of the men that died. These scenes paint a picture of individuals with their own lives, a family and friends risking theirs to save others, ultimately leaving the survivors with a hole that will stay for as long as they live.
The message is clear, the people affected by these fires have not recovered. And it may be a long while before that happens. The film begs the people affected by this disaster to reach out for help, attempting to break this stigma that Australians are ‘tough’ and can get through anything by themselves.
The horrific images and the heartbreaking moments are balanced against the idea that humans are able to be selfless and that it is through others that we are able to heal. On countless occasions, the people in the documentary put others above themselves to help. We are shown many scenes in which people are brought to tears by stories of selflessness and thankfulness.
In one heartwarming scene, we see the community of Balmoral all together smiling and talking while music plays; reminding us that there are always people out there to help. The same reason firefighters were inspired to help is the same reason others are inspired to help them. There is no shame in showing emotion and talking it through with others because only through them will you be able to heal.
A Fire Inside is a documentary that chooses to focus on the people rather than the fires themselves or the politics surrounding the chaos. And through this, we are reminded that with the help of others, we can get through anything.