Hot Docs

Fire Tower Review: Watching Over Canada’s Wilderness

Hot Docs 2024

4 mins read

Fire Tower
(Canada, 47 min.)
Dir. Tova Krentzman
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (World Premiere)


If a tree falls in the woods, somebody not be there to hear it. However, if a tree starts to smoke in the woods, somebody will be there to see it. Near, far, wherever they are, tower lookouts are the eyes in the sky watching over Canada’s forests.

These keen eyes are the subject of Fire Tower, director/producer Tova Krentzman’s portrait of unique labourers who protect Canada’s distinct landscape. The documentary whisks audiences to the Yukon and introduces several tower lookouts who thrive in a solitary, but essential job. Fire Tower shares the perspectives of these wilderness watchers as they scan the horizon looking for smoke.

Lookouts like Bryan Jamieson tell how it takes a certain character to rough it solo for a half-year in the wilderness. He recalls his first gig as a lookout with a supervisor who immediately pegged him as a lifer.

As veteran lookout Dianne Caron agrees, it’s an occupation she’ll enjoy while pushing 70. She’ll climb up that high lookout tower until they make her retire.

Krentzman observes the daily labours of the lookouts as they share their duties and gab about isolation. One perk of the solo job is that these characters prove very talkative. It’s evident that Krentzman is a welcome dose of human contact. Everyone has lots to say. They reveal character traits to show that it indeed takes a certain type to thrive in this job.

Besides scanning the sky and noting the weather patterns, the lookouts tell how their towers offer a serene vantage point for nature’s beauty. That front row ticket also means firsthand experiences for dramatic changes in weather patterns. They describe roaring storms and high winds—aspects of climate change that echo the growing number of fires.

But then there are the lookouts themselves. Northern living gets a slice of life portrait here as the lookouts share their stories about run-ins with bears, offer tips for making moose-meat chili, and go on about the spiders that keep them company high in the sky.

Being a lookout entails tough choices, too, as Kimberly Jackson shares her concerns about keeping the job and starting the family, while Robert admits that he never quite found the right lady who seemed ready for a life spent way up north in the woods. The dogs will have to do. At the same time, the threat of fire means they have to be ready at any moment. The sacrifice is the job itself: building a life that could be gone in a flash.

Krentzman finds a unique and character-driven environmental fable in the story of these fire towers and the role that the lookouts perform. Premiering at festivals not too long after wildfires ravaged both sides of Canada with concerning frequency and force. The film also notes that the number of lookouts themselves is dwindling. At a time when we need them more than ever, these eyes are being replaced by cameras. Surveillance cams simply can’t spot smoke and respond with the same intuition.

With its eye for people and place alike, Fire Tower observes why human lookouts much protect Canada’s wilderness. Krentzman’s beautifully shot film captures the expansive landscape worth preserving, especially for humans and animals alike to enjoy. If only cameras get to enjoy the view, then what’s the point?

Fire Tower premiered at Hot Docs 2024.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

Previous Story

Kelly – Someone Else’s Dream Review: Behind the Brave Face

Next Story

Yintah Wins Rogers Audience Award at Hot Docs

Latest from Blog

0 $0.00