On Saturday the 7th February 2009, Victoria experienced once of its worst natural disasters in history. 400 fires burned through suburbs in northern and north-eastern suburbs throughout the state. 180 people and millions of animals lost their lives. Thousands of homes were destroyed and businesses were lost. It was an event that affected not only my community, but the nearby communities of family and friends. I was 13 at the time and unable to fully grasp the depth of the tragedy that had occurred.
10 years after the events of Black Saturday, the documentary ‘Forged from Fire’ seeks not to remind us of the horrors of that day, but to focus on how the community banded together to recover and sought to pay tribute. The Tree Project was born a week after the fires, as a number of blacksmiths invited others from across Australia and the world to donate their time and material to create The Blacksmiths’ Tree, a steel and copper tree which was erected in Strathewen, Victoria, acting as a memorial for those who lost their homes and lives on Black Saturday. The documentary, through the use of anecdotes and on-screen text, recounts the story of the development and construction of the tree.
The documentary does not feature a narrator, which it greatly benefits from. It instead relies on the stories of survivors; everyday community members and the blacksmiths involved in the making of The Blacksmiths’ Tree, and stories of the creation of the tree from project founder Amanda Gibson are used as a framework for the documentary. By having those involved doing all the talking, the documentary fosters a level of intimacy and authenticity; the love, loss, blood, sweat and tears of everyone involved are all palpable. It is super touching to see how each leaf has its own engraved message, and despite the very brief runtime, the documentary never once feels short of the energy and love the topic deserves.
The experience - not just because much of the footage from locations near my home - feels quintessentially Australian. There is a sweet and obviously unintentional moment where the loud screeches of a cockatoo disrupt Gibson, and she pauses and smiles to listen to the cockatoo fly past. It’s a reminder for both Gibson and the audience that even after such a tragedy, the bushland is so important to humans and animals alike. It feels like a divine reminder of why Gibson and the incredibly talented team of blacksmiths were working so hard to create this memorial. The dramatisation of events that can taint many documentaries is nowhere to be found in ‘Forged from Fire’; to sensationalise such a dark and sad time in Victoria’s history would be in poor taste.
‘Forged from Fire’ is a powerful and hopeful look into how people cope with tragedy.
From a documentary standpoint, ‘Forged from Fire’ does not do anything particularly unique, but for a story as powerful as this, the documentary doesn’t need to be pushing any creative envelopes. Much like the lack of narrator, its simplistic editing choices and lack of stylistic flair ensures that the most important aspects – the story and those involved – are in the spotlight.
‘Forged from Fire’ is a powerful and hopeful look into how people cope with tragedy and, from the literal ashes, how something beautiful is created. By focusing not on sadness of the tragedy itself, it manages to explore one of the darkest periods of loss in Victoria with optimism and love, and that in itself warrants the documentary being seen by as many people as possible.