Burn | Movie review
An exceptional doc goes on the front lines of firefighting in Detroit.
Through a stirring combination of large-scale and intimate portraits, Burn details the systematic destruction of Detroit via fire. Subtitled One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit, Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez’s exceptional documentary focuses on a close-knit group of firefighters struggling with limited resources—no new equipment, no new recruits, rigs held together by duct tape—and a recently hired fire commissioner who seems incapable, despite his best intentions, of righting the city’s wayward course. With their ranks dwindling and arson in the city’s many vacant houses escalating, Putnam and Sanchez’s subjects prove a gregarious, selfless surrogate family made weary by their uphill battle to stop their hometown from becoming a pile of ash.
This situation is made even more poignant by the filmmakers’ concurrent focus on a few firefighters’ equally strenuous personal crises, which include paralysis and the loss of a wife. The balance between big- and little-picture struggles makes Burn compelling and persuasive. Meanwhile, footage of the conflagrations themselves, repeatedly shot in first-person slow motion that captures the profession in its terrifying glory, cements the film as a snapshot of the tenuousness of life for both smoldering Detroit and its inhabitants.