A British Columbia-based production company Wallop Film has partnered with The Guardian to tell the story about the infamous 2021 Lytton, BC wildfire, in BURNED TO THE GROUND. A story that feels increasingly relevant right now as wildfires rage across Canada this summer, BURNED TO THE GROUND premiered on The Guardian on June 8, 2023.
“The devastation of my hometown affected so many community members who I know and cherish. This documentary aims to tell their stories with truth and virtue”. Producer, Nina Sidorczuk
The town of Lytton, BC caught the attention of the world when it smashed Canada’s highest temperature ever recorded. Two days later, it had burned to the ground. Amidst the backdrop of the global climate story, the documentary tells the story of three people who show us the fragility of what we call “home” – and how the spirit of a place can live on through the people who share its story.
“Global wildfires are increasingly becoming part of our daily news cycle; but once the dust settles, the world’s attention often moves on. Our documentary sheds light on the human lives which have been affected long after the day of the fire.” Co-Director, Martin Glegg
Lytton is a unique place in North America because of its history and unique ethnic diversity. The traditional home of the Nlaka’pamux Nation, Lytton has a special significance as the place where the Thompson and Fraser Rivers converge and the bloodlines of regional Indigenous peoples mix. It is also the home of settlers from the frontier days, seeking their fortune in mining, and home to direct descendants of Chinese railroad workers who made it their home after their cross-Canada journey. Wallop’s documentary team spent time in Lytton, to discover what happened on June 30, 2021 and understand the emotional reality of what people have endured since. Through the documentary they pose the question: Can this community hold on to its identity after being displaced far and wide; and will these strong, diverse peoples who have coexisted here for decades teach us something about the dangerous path we are all on?
“This story is a warning for us all about what we can expect if we don’t face the challenges of climate change head-on. In a way, this documentary is a universal story about the importance of protecting our planet – everyone’s ‘home’.” Co-Director, Martin Glegg
Q+A with co-Directors Martin Glegg and Matt Lawrence Dix:
Why did you want to make this film?
The area around the village of Lytton is one of the most beautiful places I have witnessed since I moved from Scotland to Canada. I had shot a narrative piece in the town just a year before the fire and the vast, rugged and beautiful landscape left a lasting impression. I remember being completely shocked when I heard it had been burnt to the ground and I felt compelled to see if there was a way we could tell the story. As an avid Guardian reader I appreciated the publication’s stance on environmental matters so I connected with the documentary commissioners and the rest is history.
(MATT LAWRENCE DIX)
I think the weight of telling a story like this, where the pressure was high to do it right, was very appealing to me. Lytton was the town where I took my first summer job as a 20 year old labourer on a geology crew (after immigrating to the country from Zimbabwe), and it was a place I returned to for work in the summers that followed. I remember where I was standing exactly when someone told me that it had been destroyed by a wildfire, and the good memories I have from my early experiences in Lytton made me want to contribute somehow.
How did you meet and select your contributors?
Our producer Nina Sidorczuk is from the local Nlaka’pamux Nation and a Lytton resident herself, and it was Nina who was instrumental in bringing all the characters in this documentary to the screen. It was a delicate process as these people’s lives had been turned upside down so we really needed to tread carefully and thoughtfully throughout the whole filmmaking process.
How was the film made? What processes, techniques, or new methods did you use in making the film?
(MATT LAWRENCE DIX)
From a cinematography perspective, we knew that one of the stand-out qualities of Lytton lending to the special feeling of the place is its wild natural beauty. From the outset, we wanted to ensure we could capture the town within the grandeur of the surrounding landscape to show audiences how unique it is – and we wanted to do it using large format cinema cameras. Our generous equipment supplier, Stuart Whelan, was pivotal in providing us with an Alexa Mini LF camera and Leica R full-frame lenses to capture the high resolution images of Lytton we hoped for. Keeping our crew small and nimble was paramount, as many of our contributors had never been on camera before, and we wanted them to be comfortable. We also used natural light and minimal gear to make sure we didn’t burden anyone, and kept our footprint as small as possible.
What were you hoping to achieve with the film / what do you hope audiences will take away from it?
Many of the residents from Lytton and the surrounding areas have been there for a long time. In the case of the Indigenous community the lineage runs very deep. The act of being uprooted and displaced meant many of the characters lost not only their material possessions, but the culture, community and mountains that helped define them. I feel that this story can teach us all something about our connection to home and how it contributes to our sense of self.
What is the update on your contributors?
(MATT LAWRENCE DIX)
JR, who lost their home in the fire, has recently moved into a temporary container-house near Lytton, where they can be closer to the school where they worked.
John, who was the acting Chief on the day of the fire and lost his home, continues to be active in the community, providing leadership as a Knowledge Keeper with the Nlaka’pamux Tribal Council in Lytton.
Mona, who also lost her home in the fire, has moved more than seven times since being displaced from Lytton, and now lives in Ashcroft, 80 kilometers away.
We are in touch with them all, and will be visiting them this summer.
There has been significantly more wildfire activity in Canada for this time of the year. How much is climate change and climate displacement part of the discourse?
The people of Lytton have said that they are noticing considerable changes in the climate year over year. It’s not a subtle change either and every year they have to contend with increasing heat and more frequent forest fires that threaten their homeland. I think this story can be a warning for us all about the impacts of climate change.
What other projects are you working on?
(MATT LAWRENCE DIX)
We are working on two feature documentaries: one that will premiere this year about Canada’s goalkeeping legend, Stephanie Labbé and her rise to football fame amidst a backdrop of issues with mental health and inequality in sport. And another about Hidekazu Tojo, the famed Japanese-Canadian sushi chef known for pioneering sushi in North America; an immigrant story told through a culinary lens, with a focus on making your mark and changing the world around you in your own subtle ways.