Wednesday, March 28, 2012

ABC documentary The Day the Wind Changed

The Day the Wind Changed is a documentary looking closely at the aftermath of the Black Saturday bush fires in the small town of Strathewen. The fires on Feburary 7th 2009 were the worst natural disaster for Australia in recorded history.   Strathewen which lies 40 kilometeres from Melbourne in rural bush land, was dubbed ‘the valley of death ‘after the events of Black Saturday 3 years ago.  The death toll was high; 102 people from Srathewen died.  Director Celeste Geer was a local resident who got out with her family just in time, only to return to a scene of utter devastation and unfathomable loss. 

Her documentary does not try to make sense of unbelievable events, nor does it dwell on disaster. It looks simply at a community trying to rebuild their lives after tragedy. Celeste’s intimate knowledge of the town and it’s residences allows her to capture the private and difficult moments with insight and care.  Her personal story is interwoven with that of the town and drives the narrative and voiceover adding power and weight to the unfolding stories.  In doing so she makes a multi layered documentary which is affecting in many ways and the memory of which lingers long after the closing credits.  

Geer looks at the nature of grief. She touches upon how men and women grieve differently. Women come together and talk and nurture.  Men stay isolated and keep busy.  There are no judgements. No right or wrong answers simply observations into human nature.  One man who lost his wife in the fires finds new love with a case worker assigned to help the Black Saturday victims.  Three years on the two live together and try to put the past behind them. Yet the documentary ponders, whether  anyone can in fact, put a time limit on grief? As one of the survivors says “to acknowledge grief is to acknowledge love”. 

Everyone in Strathewen knew someone who died, some of those were their close relatives.  Many people lost homes, businesses and animals in those terrible fires.  One family followed from the beginning got trapped by the fire, but managed to survive hiding between their two water tanks.  The little girl was understandably traumatized by the experience and blamed her parents for not leaving when they had a chance.  Her major loss of innocence and safety is one which is difficult to repair, but little by little, inch by inch, with time, some counselling and a new home she appears happy and safe again.  The headmistress of the local school acknowledges though, that all the children are different now. That this experience unites them and changes them forever, possibly in ways they are still to discover.
The tragedy also brought new beginnings and new rituals.  Rituals created to bring them together. ‘Soup Night’ which started just after the initial events and has become an ongoing tradition for Strathewen; it is a night of music, food and belonging.  The healing never stops. This beautifully assembled documentary offers insight into grief and meditations on hope.  

Published in Tharunka Magazine Feb 2012 -!/Tharunka/info

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