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Burning Question

Getty Images/Sundance Institute

Bring Your Own Brigade (2021)

A documentary on the California wildfires is certainly much needed, but “Bring Your Own Brigade” falls short in its quest to seek cogent answers. There is unsettling cell phone footage of homes and vehicles stuck in traffic enveloped by engulfing flames, with people trapped inside and presumably being burned alive. Those scenes are devastating indeed. While the film recognizes there may be more than one root cause, it unintentionally calls into question the legitimacy of possible culprits it manages to identify.

The film firmly latches onto Brad Weldon, who attributes his miraculous survival in the 2018 Malibu Woolsey Fire to a higher power looking down. That’s fair, or one would think, until he later reveals himself to be a climate change denier. While he very convincingly offers up the area’s timber boom and inept governance as alternative explanations for the infernos, his rejection of science and lack of research credentials cast serious doubt on his testimonials as the film’s star witness. Caring for his blind elderly mother and sheltering neighbors who’ve lost homes in the fire, Mr. Weldon is a saint by most accounts. It’s just tough for any reasonable person to take a quasi-QAnon type seriously.

It’s also alarming from the outset that filmmaker Lucy Walker interjects herself into the voiceover narrative when the film isn’t even tangentially autobiographical. Broadcasting her own outsider status doesn’t do anything to establish her neutrality; rather it paints her as a citizen journalist who’s out of her depth. Even with what authority and gravitas her British accent may lend, it’s tough to distinguish her film from a YouTube conspiracy video.


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