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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Let the Fire Burn Movie Review


If you seek out power in your documentaries, Jason Osder's "Let the Fire Burn" delivers. It is constructed in a way to give us blunt-force trauma. Osder never gives us a breather, preferring to start at a stirring pitch, and turning it up from that point, notch-by-discomforting notch. The end result leaves one exhausted but thankful for the effort.


In 1985, a group calling themselves MOVE, came into the public consciousness of America, and dominated the news in Philadelphia.  Founded in 1972 by John Africa, the black liberation group consisted of mostly blacks who all took the surname Africa. They spoke about the evils of technology, preached against technology, and promoted veganism. They lived together communally and were very vocal, often conducting public demonstrations.

"Let the Fire Burn" concerns an episode where eleven people were killed and 61 homes were burned down to the ground in Philadelphia. The cause for this would depend on whose side you believe, although it is pretty clear that city officials bungled a very tough situation. Using archive footage, Osder places us back in the middle of the crisis while it plays out as well as inside the ensuing investigation.

The roots for the problem can be traced back to a 1978 conflict when a police officer was killed. Nine members of MOVE were convicted of the killing. The group maintained their innocence. Bad mutual feelings naturally smoldered from that point forward. In another incident, MOVE member Delbert Africa was beaten by police officers. None of the officers were convicted despite video footage of the incident.

In 1985, MOVE moved into a house in a middle-class area. They boarded up the house and created a fortress out of it and began using a PA system to broadcast their political beliefs to the rest of the neighborhood, something their neighbors strongly objected to. It all came to a head on May 13th. A standoff that saw bullets flying in the streets escalated when the police dropped explosives on the house from a helicopter. The mayor gave the order to let the fire burn. The result was death and destruction.

The resulting investigation is fascinating to watch unfold, with testimony from various city officials and surviving members of MOVE. The ramifications of the incident and the hearings were felt for many years and Osder's depiction of the events is sure to stay with you long after you see the film.

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