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

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

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

A few times a year, I pull out our HEPA filter and begin to reassure my worried friends and family that, no, the city of Los Angeles, where I live, isn’t on fire – or at least not yet. The air quality here is almost always bad, of course, but I tend to only turn on the air filter when the smoke comes in, filling the basin and darkening the sky.

“The Burning City is Los Angeles’ deepest image of itself,” Joan Didion wrote in 1967. It was two years after the Watts uprising, but Didion did not write about race and calculating, she created a poetically apocalyptic image of the city and, by extension, California. Decades later, she returned to the subject, using a phrase – “fire season” – that now seems outdated. In an era of persistent drought and climate change, wildfires never seem to go out in the West, where so many people burned in July that smoke has reached the East Coast.

In “Bring Your Own Brigade,” director Lucy Walker doesn’t just watch the fires; she investigates and tries to understand them. It’s a tough, intelligent and impressive film, and one of its virtues is that Walker, a British transplanted to Los Angeles, doesn’t seem to have understood everything before he starts filming. She appears open, curious, and understandably worried, but her approach – the way she looks and listens, and the way she shapes the material – gives the film a quality of discovery. (She’s also pleasantly free of the boosterism or sufficient hostility that characterizes so much California cover.)

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Specific and universal, poignant and hopeful, “Bring Your Own Brigade” opens onto a world in flames. Today and everywhere – in Australia, Greece, the United States – fires are burning. Ignited by lightning, broken power lines and a long and catastrophic history of human error, the fire engulfs acres with every mile, destroying homes and neighborhoods and killing every living thing in its path. It’s terrifying, and if you can manage to get past the film’s heart-wrenching first images, especially of a pitifully scorched and whiny koala, you’ll quickly realize that your terror is justified.

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