Burnin' down the house
Wildfire (Large Format - 40 minutes)
Review by Ross Anthony

A tribute to the men, women and machines that fight fires. Though hindered by traditional documentary tactics and on a rather dirty reel, some fine big cam cinematography graces "Wildfire."

"We've become so good at putting them out..." the forests are just waiting to blaze. And when they do, the people fighting them ironically set perfectly good trees on fire to do it.

Smokejumpers leap out of a plane into a smoldering field with only a minute or two to scope out a place to land. Shot from the plane, from the ground and from the jumper (which is totally awesome) ... you'll feel like you're the one scanning the fast approaching landscape for a secure spot. And if that isn't work enough, these folks return to repair their own chutes.

A brush fire burns though California as easily as paper. Aerial shots capture the beast, huge billowing smoke clouds grant you the privilege of witness without the danger. A tanker plane dives to drop its red retardant load. We sit in the cockpit, then strapped on its belly to watch the red fall.

A couple of specially trained firefighters repel from opposite sides of a copter hovering over the forest.

A skylift copter buzzes like an insect, hose hanging between its legs like the nose of an anteater as it slurps up water from whichever lake or pond it can find. Then with the camera down below, it drops its load all over that huge LFX screen.

Those are the highlights. The lowlights include: a moment or two of handheld large format camera (yikes, brings back memories of "Blair Witch"), ending shots of firemen walking in freeze-frame slow-mo through the conquered smolderings - hokier than need be (the concluding re-visiting sequence is sufficient and much less patronizing). But it's the standard-documentary factor that holds this fiery film from exploding on screen. Interesting, informative, even well-narrated it still smells a bit of the stuff we'd see on TV.

Overall, "Wildfire" is a well-paced 40-minute documentary with some well-placed "hot" camera action giving you the opportunity to jump out of the plane into the fire.

  • Wildfire (Large Format - 40 minutes). Copyright © 1999.
  • Starring Firefighters from Idaho, California and Australia
  • Narrated by Andre Braugher.
  • Directed by Mike Slee
  • Director of Photography: Rodney Taylor.
  • Produced by Richard Sattin, Phil Streather, and Mick Kaczorowski at Discovery Pictures.


Copyright © 2000. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit: RossAnthony.com

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 07:50:03 PDT