Transcript

Judy Woodruff: As wildfires continue to burn across New Mexico, almost 350,000 acres have been scorched.

We turn to a perspective of how these increasingly common events are affecting the people in the midst of them.

Lucy Walker is a documentary filmmaker. And her most recent work, “Bring Your Own Brigade,” follows residents after the disastrous Camp Fire in California.

Tonight, she offers her Brief But Spectacular take on the power of documentary filmmaking.

Lucy Walker, Documentary Filmmaker: When fire burns in the community, when people are forced to grab a few things and go someplace, you really see what matters. What do people grab? Where do people go? What resources do they have or not have?

It felt very revealing to be with people in these incredibly intense moments, where they realized that they had lost everything.

“Bring Your Own Brigade” is a film that wants to understand the global fire crisis and uses the case study of the worst time in fires in California, these fires that we had in Malibu and Paradise, which are the opposite ends of the state of California, the opposite ends of the political and economic spectrum, but happened at pretty much the same time.

When I first began the film, I had assumed that it was just climate change that was driving these fires. Then I learned that climate change is more of a performance enhancer. I hadn’t understood that Native American people living here had had a much different relationship with fire than the European settlers who came later.

And they had deliberately set fires to serve many purposes, for farming, for clearing paths, for disinfecting. And once the logging industry moved into California, and trees became a valuable crop to protect, it became all about suppressing fire at all costs.

The way that the landscape is, it needs to burn regularly. It’s adapted to burn regularly. And if there aren’t smaller fires that come through, the fuel will build up. And then, when a fire is ignited, it will be completely out of control.

I have had the privilege of being with people in some really intense moments in their life, and sometimes moments of real loss and grief. There’s a lot of sensitivity that would always go into that. But when you are also bringing the recording to that situation, it’s a lot to handle.

The goal of this sort of job is to have it be a win-win-win, a win for the audience because they are going to get to understand something that’s going to be very precious and important, a win for the person who’s sharing this vulnerable moment with me, the team, and also potentially this audience.

I think, as a filmmaker, I’m not kind of an activist hoping to persuade people of a point of view exactly, but I do think, the more aware we become of what is actually happening in the world, the better we can respond and bring all our beautiful human awareness to the situation.

My name is Lucy Walker, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on the power of documentary filmmaking.

Judy Woodruff: And you can watch more Brief But Spectacular videos at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.