Fireflies: articles

Fire worth stoking

FIRES are still smouldering in Lost River; the pity is that more people don’t know know about it. Fireflies is a a class act, with a bunch of first-rate actors playing complex characters with subtlety and style. An Aussie drama that centres on volunteer firefighters in a small community, it’s one of those really good ideas that seems obvious—once someone else has thought of it.

The location shots (it’s filmed in and around NSW’s Duffy’s Forest) will satisfy armchair sea-changers but the feel throughout is realistic rather than romanticised. Paul Kelly’s music—which includes songs written especially for the series—heightens an already authentic atmosphere.

As for the firefighting scenes, filmed with much advice from the NSW Rural Fire Service and mixed with news footage, these are exciting and-or scary, depending on your experiences. (My eight-year-old left the room as soon as the fires started crackling in the first episode and refused to return until the credits rolled.)

But putting out blazes—physical as well as emotional ones within the various homefronts of Lost River—is only half the battle for Fireflies. Having moved it from its 7.30pm Saturday slot to 8.30pm on Thursdays, it’s now up against such ratings winners as ER and Law & Order: SVU. A strange decision? The ABC says it’s because it found the series appealed more to an under-40s audience while the 65-plus demographic it was counting on has turned off (surely not the sexual reference, perhaps it’s the clandestine marijuana cultivation?). Figures have been woeful since the time change but the ABC is hanging in there, hopeful of a slow burn. and pointing out that series such as All Saints can take up to two years to establish.

Meanwhile, back in Lost River we’re up to episode 13 in a 20-part series. It’s midsummer, height of the fire season, tempers are frayed, relationships strained—and now the town is split over development proposals for a resort and golf course. Chief fireperson Backa (Jeremy Sims) continues to negotiate with his unpredictable Russian wife Svettie (lovely performances from Natasha Novak) as his (so far platonic) friendship with Lill (Libby Tanner) simmers, while her marriage to Perry (John Waters, good for the ladies-of-a-certain-age demographic) isn’t going according to the baby-makes-three plan. One of the standout characters, Fifi (Nadia Townsend), continues to confuse Joey (Christopher Morris) but they reach a temporary accommodation, which is a relief.

Meanwhile, the ganglion that is the Sharp family continues to foment unease; and curmudgeonly Uncle Jeff continues alienating his remaining family. These, and others, are not black-and-white characters—flaws and intriguing shades of grey permeate all.

Happily, not every episode requires a full-on fire to be doused but the tempo of the series varies for another reason. Fireflies has a team of writers under the direction of story editor John O’Brien, and fans will have their favourites. For me, ep 9, Home is Where the Heat Is, written by Keith Thompson and directed by David Caesar, was brilliant, not least for Abe Forsythe’s edgy performance as angry, dangerous Hank Sharp (more of him, please). This week’s show, written by Jacquelin Perske and directed by Geoff Bennett, is mellower—nothing like a death to put things into introspective mode. Some viewers find the pace of Fireflies, and life in a country town, slow. No one gets murdered, loses buckets of blood in an operating theatre, is shot or gang-raped. I like that.

By Carrie Kablean
The Australian
April 17, 2004