Writer/director Jacob Hickey describes the making of Inside The Firestorm.
Turning on the television on that Sunday morning and seeing the pictures of Marysville is something that I’ll never forget. The destruction was incomprehensible. To be asked to make a feature length documentary about Australia’s most devastating bush fires a few months later was daunting and a huge responsibility but also a massive privilege.
From day one I always felt that this film should be from the point of view of the people who were there on the day; the survivors, those who lost loved one, the fire fighters – the eyewitnesses from inside the firestorm.
I was also determined that the documentary would shed some light and explanation amid the heat. By telling the story as a single timeline, following events as they unfolded, we could create a simple and dramatic narrative that the audience could lock into and follow. From the first spark to the eventual devastation, the film would hone in on the key hours, minutes, even seconds of the disaster.
The fire itself would create this timeline; the central character in the film, the all-powerful voice. By tracking the fire’s journey, explaining its extraordinary behaviour and devastating power we could offer a layer of explanation and context that would run in tandem with the dramatic and heart-breaking human story.
And there was the subplot. There were so many fires, they moved so quickly and with such ferocity that the warning systems and the plans the authorities and ordinary Australians had always relied on to deal with a bushfire emergency failed with dire consequences.
This was a fire that re-wrote history and broke all the rules.
I was aware from the start that imagery was going to be a real challenge. There were relatively few television pictures of the fires and none whatsoever from the perspective of those on the ground in the worst hit areas.
To get inside the firestorm we needed to track down as much amateur footage as possible. This first hand visual testimony has a quality like no other, it takes you back to that place in the most compelling and in the moment way. For a documentary of record, this imagery is vital.
But the film also needed a God’s eye view. I was convinced that the audience needed to gain an overview for what was a complex and rapidly changing disaster. We’d achieve this by investing in photo realistic CGI graphics and mapping so the viewer could understand how, where and when the fires moved.
Last but by no means least, this film needed to be a commemoration. One year on, those who lost their lives and those left behind should be remembered. In some small way a documentary of record could help achieve that.
The common theme throughout the making of this documentary has been the extraordinary generosity of spirit shown to us by those who have suffered the most unimaginable and devastating experience.
Many of who lost everything they owned, others who lost so much more. All gave us the one thing we needed more than anything else, their time.
The single most important aim of this documentary was to convey what it was really like inside the firestorm. The survivors were the only people who knew. And so over an intense research period of several months, we visited the worst hit areas and talked for many hours to those good enough to welcome us in.
Some of these survivors appear in the film and of course we owe them a great debt. Their honesty and strength was genuinely humbling. But there are many, many more who gave up their time to tell us their story, to put us in touch with others and to help our quest to piece together what was a remarkable event and a terrible tragedy.
We’re grateful to them all.
Inside The Firestorm screens on Sunday, February 7 at 8.30pm on ABC1.