Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
There is a new documentary coming out this weekend that is entirely about Detroit. This film, Burn, is an in-depth look into the Detroit Fire Department through the eyes of those closest to it. It doesn’t have a distributor and was completely funded independently. In fact, Burn isn’t even a film you’ll find listed on the Internet Movie Database.
As we learn in the film, Detroit has more fires than any other city in the country. The filmmakers provide some harrowing statistics of how fires in the city have gone up nearly 300% over the past few decades, yet the number of firefighters has decreased by more than half. Detroit is literally burning.
In this documentary, we get up close and personal with members of the DFD. One man, Dave Parnell, has been with the department for over thirty years and is nearing retirement. Another man, Brendan “Doogie” Milewski – barely into his twenties - is paralyzed from the waist down after a building collapsed on him while fighting a fire, on Friday the 13th no less.
The most interesting strand though, deals with Fire Commissioner Donald Austin, a straight-shooting Detroit native who came up through the ranks out in California. Upon returning to Detroit and vowing to clean things up, he is met with several challenges that quickly seem to suck the hope right out of him. The defensive Detroit-ers (and who can blame them?) view him as an outsider and once in, Commissioner Austin faces daunting political, economical and fiscal challenges. Shortly after arriving, he describes his position as “managing misery,” adding, “Every week that I work here is like a year off of my life.”
In several somewhat awkward “music video style” montages, we also see the DFD in action, putting out fires and doing what they can to fight back against the severe arson problem the city faces (they give staggering statistics on the percentage of arson fires). In a city with over 80,000 vacant homes, much of the time, money and efforts of the DFD are spent putting out fires in abandoned buildings and homes.
Though it’s a well-made and eye-opening film, as a Detroit-er, I also found myself feeling slightly agitated and frustrated while watching Burn. Another movie about how bad things are in Detroit? While Burn exposes some real problems facing our city, it’s yet another black eye for a city whose image has already been beat down and demolished. When a film sheds light on problems facing Detroit and yet fails to provide us with any real answers, rays of hope or even possible suggested paths to salvation, it is difficult for me to understand the point. Enough is enough with showing the ugliness of Detroit, there should be a real sense of responsibility to enlighten the masses on what should be done, if anything. Or like a bunch of pyromaniacs, are we supposed to derive pleasure as we sit back and watch a city burn?
Perhaps that’s an unfair, biased take. But being born and raised in Detroit, I couldn’t help but feel slightly burned by Burn.
Run Time: 1 hours, 40 minutes
Produced/Directed by Tom Putnam & Brenna Sanchez
Opens locally on Friday, Dec. 7th , 2012
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