Detroit Burning

Bringing America's forgotten city back from the ashes

Detroit Burning Confronted with vast stretches of abandoned buildings, the highest arson rate in the country, and a budget crisis of epic proportions, the brave men and women of Detroit’s Fire Department risk everything to try and make a difference for the place they call home. Ten years in the making, this documentary follows Detroit through impoverishment, decimation, and regeneration, as a community comes together to revive a city on its knees.

Detroit Burning (2022) on IMDb

The Producers

Tom Putnam—Director

Tom Putnam is an award-winning director, producer, and editor who specializes in telling emotional, cinematic stories about the triumphs of everyday people. His adventures have taken him into burning buildings with America’s busiest firefighters, stranded him in an unmarked minefield in Alaska, and sent him on tour with notorious rappers Insane Clown Posse.

His past short films and features have played more than 500 film festivals, from Sundance to Cannes, been released theatrically worldwide, and won more than 50 major awards including two Spirit Awards, the Grand Jury Prize at the SXSW Film Festival, and the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival.

His documentary features include producing and directing the Detroit firefighting film BURN, one of the highest-grossing documentaries in history; producing the critically-acclaimed MARWENCOL; and producing, directing, and editing THE UNITED STATES OF INSANITY.

Brenna Sanchez—Producer/Director

Detroit native Brenna Sanchez is an award-winning documentary filmmaker specializing in powerful, character-driven stories, from conception through delivery. As a founder of TBVE Films, she developed viral and award-winning content for General Motors, Ford Motor Company, Kimberly-Clarke, CMC Rescue, and MSA, among others.

She was a producer for Academy Award-winning director Morgan Neville. She produced, directed and distributed the critically acclaimed documentary BURN, which is one of the highest-grossing and widely seen self-distributed films of all time. The film was funded and distributed primarily through her social media and crowdfunding leadership.

She has spoken on documentary, directing, social media, crowdfunding and distribution panels for: Sundance Institute, Los Angeles Film Festival/FILM Independent, Tribeca Film Festival, FIND Documentary Lab, FIND Directors’ Lab, International Documentary Association, Directors Guild of America, and USC School of Cinematic Arts. She has appeared as an authority on the fire service and Detroit's bankruptcy on NBC Nightly News, Bloomberg Business, MSNBC and more.

Making The Film

In 2009 I read a story about a Detroit firefighter named Walter Harris who died while fighting a fire in an abandoned building. I asked the question that so many others have as well: why would someone go into an empty building to fight fires? I called Brenna Sanchez, a filmmaker who grew up in Detroit, to see if she had an answer. An hour later she called me back from a Detroit firehouse — she wasn’t sure either, and wanted to try and find out.

Together, we spent 12 years filming the busiest firefighters in the world, who serve the most dangerous zip code in America, to answer that question. Detroit’s a proud city with an incredible history of service, and the men and women we’ve come to know know so well represent what’s best in all of us. They risk their lives night after night to save homes and lives.

We met with so many unexpected events during that time: injuries, deaths, and seven city fire commissioners. And the city itself experienced an unprecedented series of highs and lows never before seen in this nation. Through it all, the firefighters, their families, and the residents we followed learned to find a new normal, and help the city slowly, sometimes painfully, evolve into a sustainable new Detroit that can weather the challenges of the future.

When we started, Detroit was an anomaly — a city with a shrinking population and tax base, while the residents’ needs continued to grow. But it’s no longer alone. Nearly every major American city is experiencing the same challenges. I hope that Detroit Burning can give other cities a hopeful and helpful roadmap for how even the most challenging urban environment can have an incredible second act.

- Tom Putnam

This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. For more info see our Cookies Policy