Murray Fredericks on fire | FilmInk
The photographer talks about his film project, Flambé.
Australian landscape artist Murray Fredericks is renowned for his large-scale photographs of remote and challenging locations.
Working both in Australia and overseas, Fredericks’ photo series have taken him to the landscapes of Greenland, Lake Eyre and the Himalayas.
His last project is Flambéan observation documentary, which accompanies a series of photographs of landscapes with fire as their central theme.
Made with Oscar-nominated team Bentley Dean (co-director) and Tania Nehme (editor), both Tanna fame, the film depicts blazing trees, and often the flame itself, against flooded lakes and rivers, which have been ubiquitous in Australia during the La Niña cycles of 2021 and 2022.
Fredericks chats with FilmInk about how it all started.
How did you Flambé to arrive?
“It’s a completely accidental movie. I asked Bentley Dean to come over, if he could do some sort of five-minute online thing behind the scenes. And he got into it, loved what it was. he saw it, had a really good feeling about it. And I think because there was no script or plan or anything behind it, the whole documentary just happened very nicely and naturally. And when he reviewed the footage with Tania Nehme, the editor, they both decided there was a longer document in there.
Flambé is related to your latest series of photographs that capture burning trees. Can you elaborate more on this subject?
“I am a landscaper. And the theme I’ve been working on for a year and a half is fire in the landscape. What we did was head to many flooded lakes which are temporary; they’re only there in the middle of the desert right now because of all this humidity we’re having this season, and we’ve used pyro cinematic gear to wire the gas lines, out the back of these massive trees in the middle of those lakes and then turn on the gas at sunset or whenever there’s a thunderstorm or something absolutely dramatic happening in the sky. And we built this series through that.
“Bentley fell in love with the process and what we were doing. And then he started recording thoughts and ideas, while I was working on what I was doing at the same time.”
Was it part of the interest for you to make the film to understand the current Australian climate?
“Absolutely. It’s a whole lot of things. I’ve spent the last 25 years working on very deep, multi-year landscape projects, weeks and weeks alone in the bush at a time. And really stripping down the landscape of its bare elements and then make a series of them. So, I made a film called Salt in 2009 and it was about living in the middle of Lake Eyre for five weeks straight for a decade. Flambé talks about the earth itself, what it means and how humans interact with it. The environment or ecological issues and things like that are absolutely front and center, but they’re only part of it.
“I’ve worked and listened to a lot of friends who work on environmental river flows, water flows, that sort of thing. I was particularly interested in what is happening in lower Darling due to corruption of water flows, water theft, over-allocation of water. So I went to the local community, they killed these fish, where 2 million Murray Cods were found dead in the Darling. I saw this lake system emblematic of a lot of environmental issues that were happening, but also, this emblematic region of indigenous dispossession, of big business encroaching on small farms and communities. He just felt that Menindee was a great place to start. I approached the local community and offered to light one of the trees, not as a protest, but as a beacon, and I said, “Look, if you let me do this for my art project, I ‘will encourage the community to use imagery to draw attention to these issues’.
“But once we made one, I realized we were going to come across something bigger. Then we started to work more and more. We started working in the river systems below Menindee that were flowing for the first time in a decade, and there are lakes and rivers and things there, and then we headed out to the area around the lake Eyre and continued the work in the rivers up there that flowed that haven’t flowed for many, many years.
“The Australian landscape is in an unusual state at the moment. The country is green from coast to coast. The sand dunes, the lake, the red desert are all covered in green bushes at the moment. But the lakes and the rivers which are normally just landmarks on a map are also all full and full of life”.
Did you enjoy working with Bentley Dean and Tania Nehme?
“Absolutely. They are completely passionate people. It’s a complete love project for everyone involved. Very little money has changed hands. And I think we’re all just doing it for the love of it. art and the joy of seeing the system we know too. We all work in film and photography as professional editors, shooters, whatever. We’re all used to working within those constraints. And that was just “an opportunity that presented itself to work completely outside the system. And we all loved it and ran with it.”
What has been the biggest challenge?
“Cutting the film from Bentley’s originally scheduled time to 29 minutes.
“What Bentley and Tanya brought to the whole process was this ability to work at the pace of the landscape. It’s very, very difficult to hold your own and keep an audience interested. And that’s what that they did so well at that job I think working outside of the system allowed them to experience a rhythm and a sense of time that I think your average commissioning editor for a streaming service wouldn’t allow just not.
“And for me, as a landscape artist, it’s a matter of time slowing down. So what Bentley did was just tap right into that and go, ‘This is what we’re doing, this is what the movie is going to be like.’