Trip Jennings’ award-winning wildfire documentary now screening

The documentary film Elemental: Reimagine Wildfire will be screened at Granada Theater in The Dalles, Oregon at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 5 and 1 p.m. Saturday, May 6. The film begins with views of a harrowing escape from Paradise, California, as the town was torched by wind-driven embers and burned within just hours of the fire’s start. The film features climate experts, Indigenous viewpoints, and fire survivors — and explores lessons from recent record-shattering fires across the West.
ElementalThe Columbia Gorge News reported that filmmaker Trip Jennings founded Balance Media and has worked with National Geographic for more than a decade. His films have won dozens of awards around the world and have aired on major networks on every continent.

Willamette Week reported that before this documentary began touring Oregon this spring — from Hood River to La Grande to Astoria — there was one statistic that director Trip Jennings wanted to add to the film:

“In California, 80 percent of homes that burn in wildfires are not surrounded by forests. Nationally, a majority of homes that burn in wildfires aren’t in forests.”

Why then, the film asks, are hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually fighting fires in forests? In response, Elemental explores fire’s natural ecology, how Indigenous burning practices could change the conversation, and how the best defense against wildfire begins with homes themselves.

Elemental Awards

Elemental has been selected for more than 40 film festivals and already has won numerous awards. The film is currently in theaters nationwide, and it will be available on streaming in June. SEE IT: Elemental tours Oregon during April and May. See a full list of screenings at

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9 thoughts on “Trip Jennings’ award-winning wildfire documentary now screening”

  1. Just watched the film last night in Chiloquin, OR. I was concerned about some of the messages, but was relieved of those concerns. The film shows some points of view and some factual reference points regarding controversial themes. I felt the film left the viewer to make their own decisions about their own situaiton.

    Going forward there are options. Success in community efforts to exist in the fire environment require understanding of that environment. As usual, Jack Cohen illuminates some key points that land owners need to understand.

    I recommend the film. Be informed before deciding.

  2. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I will.
    I’ve read AFE’s review and found it interesting; but I am extremely thankful for the review and truly insightful perspectives of Dr. Jack Cohen, IMHO a truly insightful Fire researcher providing useful information for years now to firefighters, fire managers and home owners (if they’d just listen).
    My perspectives come from 35 seasons as a Wildland firefighter, Prescribed Fire Specialist, FMO, IMT member.
    Thanks Dr Cohen for the work you have done and continue to do.
    Ken Kerr

  3. Great documentary, I saw it a few weeks ago in Corvalis, Oregon at the Darkside Cinema how fitting. Science and research are showing here in the United States, we are not going to fix the fire and vegetation problem anytime soon. It would take over 300 years to replicate what the natural fire regime was before fire suppression, by taking out vegetation, this dries out the stands of trees even more and changes the fire regime, the better idea is just leaving it alone. POINT PROTECTION!! The federal government (Forest Service) has no idea what they are doing even (they just hired the fire ecologist’s ever for the first time in the Forest Service’s history) if they throw billions of dollars at the problem, we still are not ahead of the overstocked forests. Have they even considered how much carbon they will release back into the atmosphere?? Most fire managers have no education in science or management at the college level. The indigenous people knew how to use fire, let’s look at how they were Stewards of the land without destroying it.
    Good luck out there.

    1. You kind of contradict yourself there at the end. You say most fire managers have no college level education in science, but then say indigenous peoples knew how to use fire (I’m assuming you’re implying they don’t have or need a college degree to know how to manage fire properly?). Should they have a degree or not? Does in-the-field experience not make you as good or better of a firefighter/manager? What about the fire managers that are also indigenous and happen to work for the forest service?

      Just my thoughts.

  4. While it’s great to see a film highlight the importance of structure hardening and defensible space, it has an axe to grind about the role forest health must play in reducing extreme fire behavior and the percentage of forests that burn at high severity.

    The Association of Fire Ecology put out a great review of the film that merits reading:

      1. I write to note for the readers a few items worth noting about the AFE Review.

        First, the review was written based on a review of a pre-release cut of the film provided to AFE as part of an offer to screen it to their membership, and there was no request to review it. The final theatrical cut of the film is 8 minutes longer, and far different from the film that they wrote about in this anonymous review. The film has new narration, expanded interviews, revised and added animations and more.

        Second, the review is anonymous, and the authors of it did not engage in any dialogue with the filmmaker before writing the review – and then distributing it. The filmmakers, with the help of their science advisory team, did identify some of the authors of the review, and sought to proactively engage in dialogue with them – and they were able to speak with one of the authors and shared with them that everything in the film through a scientific review process, was supported by scientific papers, correspondence and interviews over a 6 year period to support every assertion in the book. The co-author was invited to provide additional information and input to support the AFE’s contentions, and the filmmakers found the AFE assertions to be long on claims of effectiveness and short on proof of effectiveness, particularly over space and time.

        Here are some reviews from fire survivors, fire professionals, and experts on the film:

        “As a person who lost a home in the Camp Fire (California’s most destructive fire on record), I often seek out wildfire articles, videos, documentaries and speak with experts to gain knowledge, enabling my personal effort to rebuild a wildfire resilient home. Elemental is worth viewing, this documentary checks more boxes than any other I have viewed. Provides historical perspectives based on data, actual experience, and provides a stimulating viewing experience including amazing time lapse imaging of botanical and wildlife recovery. A thoughtfully prepared documentary with an empowering message.” – Gary Ledbetter, Camp Fire Survivor

        “A very powerful film that evaluates how society should be investing in suppression and management strategies. It takes a complex issue with multiple nuances, and breaks it down into a format that is easily absorbed.” – Yuba City Fire Chief Jesse Anderson (also worked the Dixie, Glass, Camp, Caldor and other fires in California)

        “The movie is a great encapsulation of much of what I’ve been teaching firefighters for the last 5 years and I hope to include some of the newer info/segments in my upcoming 2023 wildland refreshers.” – Fritz Koch, Wildfire Refresher Instructor, Boulder County Fire

        There are more reviews on the website, as well as a set of Frequently Asked Questions and additional information that covers these topics. We have found that many fire survivors, firefighters – both structural and wildland – feel that the film accurately depicts the challenges facing communities and the solutions that are feasible and durable.

        Ralph Bloemers
        Executive Producer

    1. Response to AFE Review of Elemental – By Dr. Jack Cohen, September 26, 2022

      I read the AFE’s review of Elemental with disappointment. Their comments seem to be a “committee” effort resulting in rather disconnected and out-of-scope criticisms. AFE seems to be using their review in an attempt to control the discussion before the film is viewed.

      Elemental appropriately presents wildland fire as a reasonable and acceptable element of maintaining ecosystems providing human benefits. I suggest they watch Elemental again as it appears they have reacted in a defensive manner and missed specific points and context related to their comments. Unfortunately they have not engaged in dialogue with the scientists in the film or the filmmakers nor identified the authors of the review, so I have prepared this response on the premise that we may be talking past one another.

      The AFE review avoids important questions that need to be discussed so that we can make strategic, durable, and scalable investments in restoring fire to the land and preventing disastrous destruction of homes, structures and entire communities.

      AFE’s review contains a number of general statements regarding fuel treatments for “benign” fire and “low and moderate intensity fires.” Their review talks about “unnaturally dense forest” and the potential for burning embers to lofting over long distances from fires in “wildlands that have not seen enough fire.” Taken together these statements evince an excessive focus on low intensity surface fire regimes, even though most western forest types have historically supported mixed intensity and stand replacement (crown fire) fires (Schmidt et al. 2002) where forest thinning is not appropriate. Restoring ecologically appropriate wildland fire in mixed intensity and high intensity fire regimes do not necessarily involve or require low intensity fires.

      More importantly, disastrous home and community fire destruction has only occurred during extreme wildfire conditions regardless of whether the fire is burning in grasslands, shrub lands or conifer forests and regardless whether those forests have been thinned or have continuous canopies. Efforts to engage in forest fuel treatments, whether effective or not for protecting wildland values, have proven themselves to be irrelevant for preventing destruction of homes and communities.

      Importantly, as I state in the film and AFE understands, we must recognize that wildland fire is inevitable. However, addressing all the different ecosystem types, and what one may or may not do in each one, is a very nuanced discussion that cannot be accommodated in a 1 hour, 20 minute film.

      The film principally and correctly addresses fire as an appropriate ecological factor that does not necessarily have to threaten or result in home and community destruction. As long as people believe the cause of the home and community destruction is a lack of forest management, they will not take steps to prepare their homes. The film helps the public understand that they have readily available opportunities to prevent their homes from burning without necessarily controlling extreme wildfires.

      I found it curious and concerning that nowhere in the AFE comments did they discuss that the landscapes of the coterminous United States could and would need to experience roughly a 4 to 10 fold increase in annual wildland area burned to match the estimated historical burn area (150 – 200 years before present and adjusted for current land use; Leehnouts 1998). The review talks about historical conditions but AFE “leaves us hanging” regarding how wildland fire can be restored as an appropriate ecological factor at landscape scales. Perhaps it is my familiarity with wildland fire issues that I interpreted Dr. Tania Schnoennagel’s discussion of current fuel treatment area inadequacy (1%) to effectively influence wildfires. Even if we accept the unproven contention that fuel treatments sufficiently work to ameliorate extreme wildfire risk to landscapes and communities, AFE seems to miss the principal point that regardless of how well fuel treatments work, the benefits require application of fuel reductions at landscape scales (Finney and Cohen 2003). Even then, the scaled-up treatments would only have potential benefits in those small percentage of wildlands that burn annually. Importantly, unless we allow future landscape scale wildland fires to burn, the fuel treatments will lose effectiveness and have to be repeated at significant financial and ecological costs.

      The AFE review appears to draw inappropriate conclusions from the film. Elemental does not contend that community ignition resistance mutually excludes fire management activities to restore ecologically appropriate wildland fire. The film spends significant time highlighting the benefits of wildland fire including cultural and prescribed burning, in a way to reach broad audiences. Also, the review makes the common, yet unsupported assumption that reducing wildfire intensity, thereby increasing potential firefighter control and reducing showers of burning embers will sufficiently reduce wildfire risk to communities. The principal factors that determine home ignitions and disastrous community destruction during extreme wildfire conditions are the vulnerabilities of the structures themselves to ignitions. Wildfires initiate ignitions but communities continue burning without wildfire influence.

      AFE relies on its flawed assumptions to suggest we should scale up vegetation cutting across broad landscapes. My examinations of Wildland-Urban (WU) fire disasters and structure ignition research do not bear that out. The film correctly identifies that local home ignition zone (HIZ) conditions, a home in relation to its immediate surroundings within 100 feet, principally determine ignitions leading to community destruction (Calkin et al. 2014). Importantly, mitigation of those local HIZ conditions can reduce community wildfire risk sufficiently to prevent WU fire disasters.

      In addition, the AFE review erroneously states that the film implies “preventing houses and communities from burning” is “the only reason for fuel treatment.” The reality is that reducing home loss has been a dominant motivation in past and recent federal and state fire management funding increases. Protecting homes and communities through more forest management has also been a dominant narrative from commodity interests. The reality is that most expenditures to address home and community losses have principally been focused on vegetation removal and not home and community ignition resistance. The focus on vegetation in forests is disproportionate to both the probability of success and the leading cause of loss during extreme wildfire conditions.

      The AFE review is not clear in what they mean by “Uncharacteristically severe wildfires are not inevitable.” Are they referring to severe ecological effects or high fire behavior intensities not necessarily related to detrimental ecological effects? I have been careful to state “extreme wildfires/wildfire conditions” are inevitable but that severe ecological results at landscape scales are not inevitable.

      The influence of wildfire intensity is a principal point of difference between ecological risk and community risk from wildfire; that is, the ability to significantly mitigate community wildfire risk is not dependent on reducing wildfire intensity. In closing, I encourage the AFE review authors to reveal themselves and engage in dialogue with the scientists in the film and the filmmakers. I expect that if they do they will better be able to address the significant gaps in their presentation of the issues.

      Calkin DE; Cohen JD; Finney MA; Thompson MP. 2014. How risk management can prevent future wildfire disasters in the wildland-urban interface. Proc. Natl. Academy Sci. vol. 111, no. 2, 746-751.

      Finney MA; Cohen JD. 2003. Expectation and evaluation of fuel management objectives. RMRSP-29, USDA Forest Service. 353-366. Leehouts B. 1998. Assessment of biomass burning in the coterminous United States. Conservation Ecology 2: 1.

      Schmidt KM; Menakis JP; Hardy CC; Hann WF; Bunnel DL. 2002. Development of coarse-scale spatial data for wildland fire and fuel management. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-87, USDA Forest Service.

      1. THANKS VERY MUCH, Ralph, for the thoughtful, reasoned, and comprehensive response. We appreciate it.


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