Tribeca 2024 Review: PIROPOLIS, Devastating Fires Start With a Single Spark

Nicholas Medina's documentary follows a volunteer fire brigade in the port city of Valparaiso, Chile.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
Tribeca 2024 Review: PIROPOLIS, Devastating Fires Start With a Single Spark

It's all fun and games until the fires start.

The film enjoys its world premiere at Tribeca Festival. It screens again on Monday, June 10, and Tuesday, June 11.

I'm not a pyromaniac, but from a young age I've been fascinated by watching things burn. So I've always been fascinated by (respectful) fire documentaries.

Directed by Nicholas Medina, Piropolis begins with images of a fire burning, before moving onto the early days of a volunteer fire brigade in the port city of Valparaiso, Chile. In the 1990s, I visited Chile and spent a couple hours in Valparaiso, which is an exquisitely beautiful seaside city.

As it happens, Chile was in the news this past February for a forest fire that caused more than 100 deaths and destroyed more than 10,000 homes in the central region of the country. Just last month, a volunteer firefighter in Valparaiso came under investigation "for allegedly planning and causing" that fire, according to the Associated Press.

Piropolis was filmed and completed before all that happened, yet it can't help but add a cautionary layer that raises questions as to why, exactly, a volunteer fire brigade is needed in a modern city. The answer would appear to be that the proximity of wooded areas near Valparaiso increases the possibility that destructive fires could start and spread over a large area, perhaps much like the destructive fires in California.

I grew up in California and could see the similarities in climates and landscapes between California and Chile, even from a brief visit, which makes the film inherently fascinating for me, but what makes Piropolis a good film is that director Nicholas Medina depicts life for the volunteer fire brigade as mundane, routine, and entirely ordinary; meanwhile, they have volunteered to put their own lives at risk while endeavoring to save people and property.

With a minimum of firefighting caught on camera, the film instead contrasts everyday life, which is caught up with household duties, as it were -- what are we to eat today? -- and a project to build private quarters for two new female volunteers, who have joined the brigade. Even with the light hearted banter between the firefighters, the audience is aware of the dangers that lurk on the outskirts of town, with flames licking away at trees and threatening to burst into raging infernos.

The film captures the visual beauty of the area in often mesmerizing imagery. It may not be sensational or thrilling, but it is continually fascinating to watch.

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ChiledocumentaryNicholas MedinaTribeca 2024Tribeca FestivalTribeca Film Festival

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