‘Bring Your Own Brigade’ Review: Some Say the World Will End in Fire


A few times a year, I remove our HEPA filter and start reassuring my worried friends and family members that no, the city of Los Angeles where I live is not on fire, or at least not yet. The air quality here is of course almost always bad, but I tend to only turn on the air filter when smoke comes in, fills the basin and darkens the sky.

Joan Didion wrote in 1967: “The city burning is the deepest image of Los Angeles. It was two years after the Watts riot, but Didion wasn’t writing about race and reckoning, creating a poetically apocalyptic image of the city and, by extension, California. Decades later, he returned to the topic using the phrase “fire season”, which now seems outdated. In an era of persistent drought and climate change, wildfires never seem to go out in the West, where so many burned and smoke peaked in July. East Coast.

In “Bring Your Own Brigade,” director Lucy Walker doesn’t just look at fires; explores and tries to understand them. It’s a tough, smart, compelling film, and one of its virtues is that Walker, a British transplant to Los Angeles, couldn’t figure it all out before shooting began. He comes across as open, curious, and rightly interested, but his approach – the way he looks and listens, and how he shapes the material – gives the film an exploratory quality. (It’s also pleasantly free from the empowerment or smug hostility that characterizes so much of California’s scope.)

Specific and universal, sad and hopeful, “Bring Your Own Brigade” opens into a world in flames. Fires are burning today and everywhere—Australia, Greece, the United States. Ignited by lightning strikes, falling power lines, and a long, disastrous history of human error, the fire engulfs miles and miles, destroying homes and neighborhoods, and killing every living thing in its path. If you can get past the gruesome and heart-wrenching early footage of the movie, especially the koalas singing and groaning pathetically, you’ll soon realize your fear was justified.


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