“Burn” isn’t really a film about fire or about firefighters. It’s a film about Detroit, which the movie says can put the “D” in “dysfunction” as well as is “poised for rebirthing.”
This rather accurate, no frills-portrayal of a city at a crossroads is engaging and visually stunning (having covered my share of fires, they did a heck of a job). It is also extremely heartfelt. You can feel these firefighters are truly on the front lines of saving Detroit.
“Burn” lives up to what it says on the trailers. It truly is a battle on the front lines to save Detroit as seen through the eyes of Fire Engine Operator Dave Parnell and countless others. It is well curated from hundreds of hours of footage by Tom Putnam and Brenda Sanchez. (Some footage was also taken by the firefighters themselves through helmet cameras.)
There were definitely times my heart stopped. As someone who remembers a couple years ago when there were the 80-plus fires in Detroit on one summer day, or when the wall collapsed on Jefferson and Dickerson (which happens to be the street and neighborhood where my father grew up) and paralyzed a firefighter, I was physically moved by the images on screen.
Every Metro Detroiter should see this movie. It’s a shame it’s currently only at the AMC Theatres in Sterling Heights and Livonia. It may give you … whether you live north or south of 8 Mile … a snapshot at just how complex the problems are here, but that there are solutions and people who won’t give up. It also pays homage to Detroit music with a well-selected soundtrack. From Marvin Gaye to Ted Nugent, it not only captured the sights but sounds of a city.
“Burn,” through very human vignettes and story threads, also highlights how decisions make at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center have real effects. There aren’t the dollars to fix and repair fire trucks and firefighters are living on food stamps and holding second jobs because of the priorities chosen with budgets over the years, the film says. Those priorities includes paying for everyday expenses with borrowed money, while about $600 million dollars a year goes out the door in debt service and the city council enjoys city-provided cars on top of their $73K per year salary. The price of divisiveness and indecisiveness in our political system has real implications to real families.
The film also highlights the spirit and camaraderie of Detroit. It’s amazing, that while we teeter on the brink of bankruptcy, many of the people smile. The city government may be broke, but the spirit of these heroes on the front lines is definitely not. These people are brothers-in-arms, and deserve our support. There have been some examples, such as when Charmin recently donated an entire pallet load of toilet paper.
If you read us regularly you know there are bright spots in other areas. You know there are projects popping up in various areas of the city, not just in Greater Downtown. In fact, there have been more jobs created in the last two years in Detroit than the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) predicted would happen in the city in 10 years.
To be honest, I was slightly nervous this would be “another black eye” for the city before I stepped in the movie theatre. But, as someone who was born here, lives here and probably will die here, “Burn” is sometimes hard to take but rings true. Its challenges show you the measure of a person and a community, and that Detroit has the greatest opportunity in America to overcome them.
These firefighters are willing to put their lives on the line while being in poverty themselves. They see this is a helluva a city, worth the hard work of saving for those who are here and those who will come in the future.