For the past five years, residents in the North Bay and throughout the state of California have lived with the fear and horror of wildfire threats and disasters.
So, it may sound strange to recommend a movie that brings those horrors to the big screen. Yet, the new documentary, Bring Your Own Brigade, is a film that captures more than the flames. Instead, it finds and celebrates the heroes who risk their lives to battle the recent string of fire catastrophes while examining the root causes of the now-seasonal plight facing the state.
Helmed by two-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker Lucy Walker, Bring Your Own Brigade begins its story in early November 2018, when several wildfires—including as the Woolsey fire and Camp fire that together killed 88 people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes in the communities of Malibu and Paradise—engulfed the state.
Born in England, Walker now lives in Venice, California. Already, her film work has been compared to documentary masters like Errol Morris, and Bring Your Own Brigade contain a similar cinema verité style and character-driven stories that Morris pioneered in his documentaries of the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Drawing on hundreds of hours of frightfully stunning video footage shot by fleeing residents who found themselves surrounded by walls of flames, the film offers a palpable “you-are-there” intensity that serves to highlight the severity of the crisis.
Accompanying the raw fire footage, Bring Your Own Brigade contains candid interviews with shell-shocked survivors, firefighters and rescue workers directly impacted by the wildfires, as well as with scientists and historians studying the causes of these fires, and indigenous tribal leaders who may hold the keys to solving the wildfire puzzle in their generational knowledge.
Among these compelling characters, audiences learn of Fire Battalion Chief Maeve Juarez, whose courageous efforts saved countless lives; bulldozer operator Joe Kennedy, who risked death to clear an evacuation path for trapped residents; and Paradise-resident Brad Weldon, who opened his house to 20 neighbors left homeless in the aftermath of the Camp fire.
As a result, Bring Your Own Brigade works as both an eyewitness account of the fiery devastation wreaked upon California communities, and as an investigation into the causes of—and potential solutions to—the global wildfire epidemic that’s engulfing the West Coast and, more recently, igniting in countries like Turkey and Spain.
While the film finds that climate change and forest mismanagement made the situation worse in the past several years, there is also hope. In the end, Bring Your Own Brigade offers simple steps that can be taken to not only lessen the death and destruction caused by wildfires, but to help balance and revitalize natural woodlands and wilderness for future generations. If only we as a society can come together to confront the crisis together.
‘Bring Your Own Brigade’ opens on Friday, Aug. 6, at select theaters including Century Regency 6, 280 Smith Ranch Rd., San Rafael (Cinemark.com); and Rialto Cinemas, 6868 McKinley St., Sebastopol (Rialtocinemas.com). The film will be available for streaming on Aug. 20 via Paramount+ and CBS News.