Black Summer was seen as part of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival
From the end of 2019 until the start of 2020, a large portion of my home state was on fire. The fires were mostly in country areas and so intense that the smoke made it over the ocean to New Zealand, where the sky turned an angry orange and the air became so toxic that people in NSW were wearing masks long before it was cool to do so. It was truly a devastating fire, destroying nearly 10,000 buildings and killing 34 people directly and 445 people from smoke inhalation.
This period would be known as Black Summer and was one of the most devastating bushfires in Australian history, which is saying a lot. Just coping with the aftermath of it all would be bad enough, but this happened in 2020. The fires weren’t even fully out before Covid hit Australian shores and our attention had to be diverted to that crisis… well, the film Black Summer is here to remind us of the mess we left when we went away and how it’s not fair.
Black Summer details the horrific events that happened during the bushfires, through interviews of people who went through it and survived. Some of them talking about how lucky they were to still have a house, others detailing how quickly they lost everything. Each story told is shocking and brutal, some even combined with footage taken while the fires raged and turned the quiet outback into an apocalyptic wasteland made of fire and brimstone. As the film goes on, the people interviewed talk about what they think went wrong and how we need to prepare for this to happen again, or maybe how to stop it from being that bad.
For anyone who was in Australia during Black Summer, this documentary is a powerful reminder of just how much we lost in those several months when every day showed us just how volatile this land can be. The visceral images of the fires being so intense that the sky turned red are shocking but important. There is no pretending that this was anything but a devastating and horrific event and the film doesn’t even try to dance around the seriousness of it all. It’s a solid account of what the people who were there went through, warts and all. It doesn’t pull punches when calling out the government who just abandoned those in need, it doesn’t hide the pain of the people, its raw honesty is in every frame and it’s incredibly compelling.
From interviews with people who managed to keep their house and used it as a base to help try and save injured wildlife to a man who is retired but lost everything and has to start again, the subjects of Black Summer are fascinating and have compelling stories of survival to tell. The film goes easily between each one, linking at moments of similarity so it shows how these stories aren’t unique, even with barely a dozen people it’s possible to tell that this is just what the thousands of residents had to deal with. These just happen to be the ones who are comfortable enough to talk about it on camera, and all of them are brave as hell for sharing their stories.
On top of handling the important topics of what happened, the film makes time to talk about the things that made this bushfire one of the worst we’ve ever had and touches on climate change and the political establishment that made this situation what it was. It even touches on the difficulty of trying to recover while also dealing with a pandemic (and how us staying home may have helped the environment). Considering the length of the film, there’s so much important content here that’s impossible to look away from.
Black Summer is an important record of one of the darkest moments in Australian history, A no-holds-barred account of an incredible tragedy that puts a very human face on the horrific bushfires that ravaged the community. Essential viewing for every Australian so we can hopefully remember those who still need our help to rebuild before the next fire comes and makes things even worse.