General Motors, Goldcrest Films, Apostle, TBVE

Director: Tom Putnam, Brenna Sanchez

Screenwriter: Tom Putnam, Brenna Sanchez

Cast: Donald Austin, Brendan “Doogie” Milewski, Dave Parnell, Craig Dougherty, Dave Miller, Jeff Urbas, Chris Palm, Dennis Hunter, Terrell Hardaway

Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 11/2/12

Opens: November 2, 2012

Who needs the false excitement of the “Terminator” series when you can watch the real thing, when you can see the difference between a real, blazing fire reaching sky high versus the canned machinations of a film company’s special effects? In their movie “Burn,” directors Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez spend a year with the Detroit Fire Department, mixing interviews with the fire fighters and their families with a look at yet another building getting fried to the ground whenever an audience might be changing focus. Featuring a lively soundtrack by Iggy and the Stooges, “Burn: One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit” depicts what looks to anyone but Pangloss to be a losing battle but takes us through the paces in a winning film.

Statistics are mercifully wedged into the doc rather than harped upon, but those numbers which are numbing include the idea that Detroit, in 1930 considered the big rising city in the U.S. has become the nation’s crumbling metropolis, losing some forty percent of its population. It doesn’t take much looking at “Burn” to wonder not at how large forty percent might be but who in their right minds would want to stay. Among the other numbers quoted is that 80,000 structures are vacant, the mayor ordering 3,000 of those to be carted away annually—a drop in the bucket. Things are so bad that the new commissioner, an outsider who comes to the city from L.A., wants many of these vacant building to burn if there’s nothing to their right or left—a position that some of the men in the firehouse protest since, they say, you never know what squatters are hiding out in them.

You’ve got to wonder, also, why anyone would want to be a fire fighter given that the starting pay is $30,000 annually, a figure that has not risen for ten years. So much for Governor Romney’s talking about the power of unions’ bankrupting the country with scarcely a mention of the little role that Wall Street, the banks, the wars, and President Bush have had in doing us in. Among these vastly underpaid fellows is one who is now in a wheelchair, victim of the city’s aggressive policy of fighting the fires within buildings instead of simply standing outside and swishing water casually into the wood.

The firefighters are racially mixed, most young though one olderer guy whose wife had just died from a heart attack has had his dreams of retiring with his sweetheart of some thirty-five years dissolved. As for why the men pursue this avocation, it’s the adrenalin the pours through their bodies according to one of the younger guys in the outfit.

The doc, which took away the audience award at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York, is brightly lensed by Mark Eaton, Nicola B. Marsh and Matt Pappas.

Unrated. 86 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+

Acting – A-

Technical – A-

Overall – B+


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By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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