In this week's Scene, Michael Sicinski writes about the most gripping documentary we've seen this year: Let the Fire Burn, Jason Osder's chilling account of urban warfare on a residential block of an American city. It plays Sunday through Tuesday at The Belcourt, and it's likely to end up on our list of the year's best films.
From the review:
Let the Fire Burn is a film composed entirely of pre-existing footage. There are no talking heads or re-enactments. Filmmaker Jason Osder has gone back to reassemble the contemporary coverage, and the official city council postmortem, of the 1985 police raid on the urban commune MOVE in Philadelphia that led to 11 deaths. A radical black-consciousness group headed by John Africa, MOVE was at odds with police, city officials and the commune's neighbors, many of whom objected to the group's activities, which included blasting obscenities over loudspeakers and piling their yard with rat-attracting compost. The police, for their part, had a chip on their shoulder regarding MOVE, since an earlier raid had resulted in the death of a Philly cop. (MOVE maintained it wasn't responsible.)
Osder's film is structured as a harrowing narrative spiral into inevitability. Mostly organized around the hearing in which city politicians, former MOVE members, the police and fire chiefs and Philly DA Ed Rendell (who would go on to be a pillar of Democratic politics) sought (or shirked) accountability, the film demonstrates certain unavoidable facts. MOVE was a cult, and unlike most cults with their isolated compounds, the group was ensconced in a brownstone in the middle of a city block. This presented unheard-of tactical problems.
You have no idea, unless you see the movie — which we strongly recommend. Read the rest of the piece here. (It also covers another documentary Sicinski recommends, God Loves Uganda — whose director, Roger Ross Williams, will discuss the movie via Skype 3:20 p.m. Saturday at The Belcourt with Scene reporter Steven Hale moderating.)