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Inferno without borders: Could our past save our future?

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The unprecedented bushfire crisis that struck Australia during the 2019-2020 summer sparked numerous controversies and its abnormality revealed underlying major issues with bush management and Australia’s part in contributing to global warming. The documentary Inferno Without Borders explores the practice of cool burning implemented by Indigenous Australians and the manner that it helps prepare the environment for the harsher impact of climate change on an already dry environment.  We met Sandrine Charruyer, Producer and Director of this documentary.

Why did you make your film?

I had previously made a documentary called “PAMDEMONIUM”, about the devastation cause by cyclone Pam, in Vanuatu.  The film screened at FIFO International film festival in Tahiti, and attracted the attention of the French broadcasters, 1ere NC from “FRANCE TELEVISION”.

This experience coincidentally started my passion and speciality in producing documentaries on natural disasters, climate change and society’s response to these.

As the Australian bushfires of 2019-2020 progressively became worldwide news, my French connection from New Caledonia contacted me at the beginning of January 2020. I first, thought that he was going to talk about the co-production project that we were working on, which was about a story about the emancipation of the Melanesian women of Vanuatu. But, instead, he presented a proposal I could not refuse: “Can you make a documentary on the bushfire issue and deliver it in within 3.5 months?” I must say that initially – due to the time crunch, uncalculated risks, and lack of time to raise funding – I said “No”. Around the same time, I attended the public ‘Climate Change Protest CBR”, where I met some very interesting individuals who inspired me. Then I thought about it and started to do some research. I watched several Q&As which discussed cultural burning, which led me to pursue an investigation in that direction. One video with Victor Steffensen, the prominent aboriginal cultural burning leader, caught my attention; he was describing how traditional landowners manage fire control, and I knew from that moment that I wanted to direct and produce this documentary.  I thought this topic was too important and the broader community seemed largely ignorant of it, and this story really needed to be told, not only to the French audience, (as required by our commissioning broadcaster), but also to the rest of the world!

So, I called back my French broadcasters and suggested this angle for the story and they agreed.  I then swung into producer mode, starting with a flurry of emails, social media connections, phone calls, visits to friends, and then called my crew DOP Tom Truong, Sound/Composer Steve J De Souza Editor Sarah Smaje, producer Laura Sivis, and writer Sophie Lepowic.

It was a very progressive organic process of finding the story, finding the people to interview, the subjects to tackle in interview questions etc… but we soon produced a list of passionate and informed people, who would contribute to the film, and within a couple of weeks, we started filming.

Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
These roaring fires have fascinated yet moved citizens scattered across the globe, so I believe that not only will this film attract the attention of all generations from the youngest to the oldest, but it will help to enlighten people on simple, ancestral, and effective solutions that can be done to save the future of our planet. These devastating fires are not only an Australian problem – we are seeing these infernos become commonplace in other countries beyond our borders. This is an informative documentary which is a platform to give voice to experts on environmental concerns, but also to everyone who does believe in it. This film is a tool given to the audience who can use it and pass on the knowledge to their own communities.

Editor Sarah Smaje

How do personal and universal themes work in your film?

I was born with hearing loss issue and as a result, I compensated by developing the ability to observe and understand people’s behavior. Filmmaking involves the observation of human behavior in all its facets. I have always been interested in the complexity of the human being, the how and why of its evolution over time, and its connection with nature and animals -spiritually, emotionally, physically, and intellectually. My film shows these sensitive aspects of human beings and myself, the resilience in humanity, the sensitivity, the sense of community, the connection with Mother Nature. It also captures the subjects in a raw and unguarded state. Sensational and yet informative, victims are given a voice. The Indigenous Australians, the experts in politics, ecology, and land management, stress the importance of adjusting to the new reality of extreme weather conditions and, crucially, adopting methods to reduce global warming. These methods are the cool burning which is the most ancient traditional method used in the Aboriginal communities. The custodians have been doing since the dawn of time, and it’s what makes them unique. Amidst the smoke and fury of this summer’s bushfire catastrophe, there is a positive note – the growing recognition of the value of Aboriginal fire and landscape management practices.

By re-adopting the indigenous methods of fire hazard reductions, introducing them into the world, maybe the traditional owners and custodians of the land will bring about tomorrow ‘s salvation and a new green revolution. These are the thematic messages that I try to convey in a personal way, and I use the medium of film to convey them.

Sandrine Charruyer & Sophie Lepowic

How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
Piecing the story together via numerous interviews and without a narration was a challenge, but with help from our talented writer, Sophie Lepowic, we managed to create a strong back-bone as a starting point. It was important to educate ourselves as much as possible on the issue, so that we could make sure we were accurately representing the facts through our storytelling and choice of interview excerpts. It was also important to us to do justice to the strong Indigenous voices and represent their words and knowledge in the way they were intended. It was an honour and a privilege to learn about land management techniques from the oldest living culture in the world and we strived to represent that with the gravity that it deserves.

What type of feedback have you received so far?
I received very positive feedback from our interviewees, professional, French, and Australian audience, even a festival film director called it: “A great and important film”. I also heard words such as: ” Interesting, provocative, shocking, captivating, moving, game changer and educational.” Even a professor in Anthropology from a university in Quebec, Canada wants to use it for her program. Generally speaking, people like the idea that the traditional landowner’s way of conducting “cool burning, could limit the ability of fires to spread so rapidly. Ancient culture has something to tell us that we can’t presume to know, and people are fascinated by that.

Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Overall, the audience’s reaction was the one that I wanted to provoke. However, some feedback was surprising, such as the difficulty of understanding some Australian accents, but also questioning the French connection in the film, which came about because our Australian fires were in fact polluting the French islands of New Caledonia 2000kms away – but which are also representative of other nations in the pacific which had Australian smoke over their homes! These clouds of pollution were the catalyst for the request to make the film, so we included a few reactions of French people living in Australia.

What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on LE COURRIER AUSTRALIEN?
I love your platform; I have a story to tell which is in keeping with the objectify of your audience

I want to raise awareness of social issues, awareness about diversity, awareness about key creative role woman filmmakers, awareness of the film when it screens at festivals and on platforms to encourage audiences to watch it.

I am keen to get more festival screenings, film sales through various platforms and overall, I feel honoured to be able to talk about my film with you.

Who do you need to come on board?
Film festivals, network broadcasters & streamers for licensing, journalists, environmental and indigenous issue champions.

What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
The film is about global warming; so, I want to raise awareness of #environmental #climatechange #wildlife issues and to raise awareness of #indigenous #firstnation traditional knowledge regarding bushfires and bush management.

What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
I see several ways of engaging a conversation or debate:

AUSTRALIA: Why does Australia have an history of massive fires? Or Passed on through the generations, could Indigenous cultural burning save Australia’s landscape from another catastrophic bushfire season and be the answer to preserve the land and its natural resources?

GLOBALLY: How can Indigenous wisdom from Australia, and from other first nations, be better used to conserve local forest flora and fauna and manage fires in imported plantations? (Such as the Australian Eucalyptus trees, now found across the globe, but which rely on fire to seed).

What role and responsibility do governments have to consult with, use and apply indigenous wisdom to help manage and control climate change?

Would you like to add anything else?
We wish for the film to be viewed on a global scale, raising awareness concerning the politics that exacerbated the bushfires in Australia. It is imperative for governments to make long term environmental financial decisions and to consider different alternatives to land management such as, cultural fires which is an ancestral indigenous ways of hazard reduction to support the natural cycle of the native flora and fauna.

The success of this film will be measured by the increased awareness of the benefits cultural burning in the future, in Australia or elsewhere across the globe.

We received a very good news few days ago, our film is now NOMINEE at Melbourne Documentary Film Festival – BEST AUSTRALIAN FEATURE AWARD and is in competition: https://www.mdff.org.au/leaderboard

We now need Australian/French support more than ever to be able to win an award.

Tickets are for sale now until its “Premiere” on Friday 01 st of October 2021, after this date it won’t be available, so people has to be quick. Also, its geolocked in Australia only: https://watch.eventive.org/mdff/play/614b65c0cc1bc2008920ee78

Trailer to watch:

What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?

We are working on a few different projects:

TV series wildlife-scientific genre documentary called “”Ridge to Reef” in co-production with Bluegreen Production, in New Caledonia. The project is commissioned by CANAL PLUS CALEDONIE and is focusing on the extinction of the animals and plants in the Pacific.

52 ‘or TV series (T.B.D) human-social issue documentary called “Mi Fala Ino Macas” in coproduction with France Television & VBTC, the film will be set in Vanuatu and highlighted a bi-colonisation that had shaped the nation of today, with a very complex system which, 40 years after its independence, left the society in a state of confusion as it tries to find a fine line between the rule of traditional customs and those of the modern law.

Feature film / fiction drama – An ensemble-female cast, in the mystery thriller genre, called “The Missing”, produced by Courage Films.  This story has a deaf child and with a female protagonist.


Podcasts to listen to:

Podcasts/Reviews à lire et écouter :

Critiques de films Simon Foster (article)

Q&A Peter Krausz critiques de cinéma ( Article)

Q&A Richards radiodiffuseur 3RRR ( émission )

Q&A Annie Amcloughlin ( Podcast )

Q&R Terri-Lee Harding NITV /SBS (Podcast )

Q&A Andrew The Curb ( Podcast )

Q&R Dov Kornits & Lleyton Hughes Filmink ( Article) Bientôt disponible.

Q&A SBS Melbourne Radio broadcaster 

Contacts : 
ANPHIETOM PRODUCTIONS anphietom@gmail.com, laura@couragefilms.com

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