‘Burning’ review: Pulling fire alarms in Australia

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‘Burning’ review: Pulling fire alarms in Australia

If you think the climate change signs for America are scary, wait until you hear about Australia. That’s the gist of “Burning,” which focuses on that country’s tragically familiar experiences with warmer temperatures: horrific wildfires, drill-baby-drill politicians, and activists trying to save us all by pointing out facts about the future. Trying hard.

The big difference is that Australia’s fires are the largest: more than 50 million acres burned during its so-called “black summer” (2019-20), dwarfing losses in California or the Amazon. The director, Eva Orner (“Chasing Asylum”), makes her contribution to documentaries on climate change by sticking to Australia and outlining the visceral impact on Australians. It is hellish: red skies and dark days, fear and helplessness, pregnancy complications and death.

Orner’s flood of footage of talking heads and footage from the area (including panicked locals and ailing koalas) settles into a drumbeat of worry—appropriate, frankly, but numb. The film also suffers by comparison with a more complex and provocative look at climate change, Lucy Walker’s dreaded “Bring Your Own Brigade.” But youth activist Daisy Jeffrey delivers the film as a smart rebel leader, versus Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, and his coal-friendly politics.

Like many environmental documents, Orner holds a potential savior (a tech billionaire pitching a pivot to renewable energy) and a prelapsarian vision (tribal leadership of the land before European arrival). His film is another in a series of signs of distress to the world ultimately, with the hope that Australia doesn’t become Cassandra the size of the continent.

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On fire
not evaluated. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes. View on Amazon.

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