‘Let the Fire Burn’ at the Carlton this week
The documentary Let the Fire Burn uses entirely archival footage to re-examine the events of the battle between the city of Philadelphia and the pseudo religious group known as MOVE. This vastly under told story from American history resulted in a fire that ultimately claimed the lives of five children and six adults along with the destruction of sixty one homes.
On May 13, 1985, the municipal government of Philadelphia and an organization called MOVE collided in violent conflict — the result of more than ten years of simmering tensions that had already claimed the life of a police officer during a 1978 gun-battle. By 5pmon May 13, police had already fired over 10,000 rounds of ammunition into the fortified row home that contained children and adults. At this point, a helicopter was used to drop a bomb made from two pounds of C-4 military explosive onto the house. During the next hour, police, firefighters, and city officials looked on as the fire grew out of control
Director Jason Osder, in his directorial debut, has expertly crafted a film that retains suspense and mystery about a true story that took place decades ago. The footage that he has managed to uncover is damaging to both sides of the equation as the film clearly shows that both sides were ultimately to blame in the confrontation coming to a head. After the inevitable clash occurs, the film shows just how the poor decisions and negligence of the government officials and support workers ended up costing the lives of most of the MOVE organization. The footage comes in varying degrees of condition as due to age and antiquated equipment which lends some of the footage tough to decipher but some of the footage, including a deposition involving the very young Birdie, one of only 2 survivors of the fire, is very damning.
The fact that the film relies on entirely archival footage from court proceedings, depositions, police recordings and news reports means the editing and direction of the footage needs to be crisp and remain on story, something that is evident throughout Let The Fire Burn. And by eschewing the standard ‘talking head’ interview recaps that can be prevalent in historical documentaries, the film retains a pacing and development that captivates the audience and keeps them engaged until the shocking black eye on Philadelphia, and American, history finally plays out.
Let The Fire Burn is playing now at the Magic Lantern Carlton Cinemas.
Till Next Time
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