Let the Fire Burn Screen 14 articles

Let the Fire Burn


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  • The closing subtitle says that no one was ever prosecuted for this madness. The pure-archive approach leaves a taste of despair; civic governance, it seems, can’t even promise not to kill you.

  • A strongly edited compilation doc, marred only by a very standard Ominous Score, with peripheral fascinations from its varied source materials: Osder sort of over does the "rolling V" effect when a VHS tape is paused, but as in e.g.And Everything Is Going Fine the inherent analog fascinations associated with the various formats make for their own side narrative.

  • The film's eloquent structure lets every side speak (two affronted former MOVE members, the police and fire commissioners, city councilmen) and lets you see that the police used poor judgement and excessive force. But that you-are-there style gives you only an impressionistic sense of what life was like inside that organization. You'd like to hear from Michael Moses Moore now. You'd like some present-day recall.

  • MOVE was anti-technology, and so aside from a few brief films shot by outsiders sympathetic to the group, they were "framed" by the media complex of the dominant culture they struggled so hard to resist. By highlighting this, Osder has made a more difficult film — one that implicitly critiques virtually every other act of contemporary documentation.

  • It belongs to what has become far and away my favorite historical-documentary mode: present tense only, allowing copious archival footage to let events unfold as if they were happening right now, without efforts at contextualization that would be much more effective in written form. Unfortunately, the drawback to this approach here is that MOVE doesn't get much of a coherent voice, just because the necessary archival material doesn't apparently exist...

  • Packing a tremendous wallop, Jason Osder’s documentary “Let the Fire Burn” recounts the tale of the Philadelphia political sect called MOVE—or at least its destruction.

  • History repeats itself, and returns to life, in Osder’s expert work of collage... A superior example of the found-footage documentary, now back in vogue, Let the Fire Burn outshines the lackluster likes of Our Nixon by combining the death-trip of a Senna with the radical history of Black Power Mixtape.

  • The immediacy of the testimony, halting or furious, and the fresh psychological wounds of the witnesses justify Osder's decision to forego original interviews; while they're edited into and contextualized by news clips, there's blunt force in the anger of two MOVE women insulting their interrogators...

  • What Osder yields from these patchworks, sans 20/20-hindsight commentary, feels closer to journalism than the usual cinematic editorials that have become a default mode for many historical documentaries.

  • In Jason Osder’s disturbing and extraordinary new documentary “Let the Fire Burn,” which entirely consists of archival footage, we see a Philadelphia police officer named James Berghaier testify at a commission hearing about the events of May 13, 1985... Although it happened almost three decades ago... the Philadelphia MOVE bombing has a startlingly contemporary feeling, partly because it was one of the first all-day live news events, captured in extensive detail by numerous video cameras.

  • The facts are mind-blowing enough for those unfamiliar, but the jumble of images is dense enough to support more in-depth considerations on the limits of cultural radicalism in the urban environment.

  • The film finds its structural skeleton in the testimony and cross-examination of an independent special commission investigating post-fire. The result is a fragile dance between past and present, a master class in editorial nimbleness. Let the Fire Burn is an exceptional piece of nonfiction because it doesn't judge one side more harshly than the other.

  • Pretty skimpy on actual details about MOVE’s ideology / origins / operations as a whole, but that would only really matter were this a documentary about the organization, which it isn’t. Osder is more focused on the repeating patterns of institutional racism, the circumstances that could create the need for such a group and the disproportionately harsh official response that greets its dissent.

  • Jason Osder’s documentary Let the Fire Burn, also screening as part of New Voices in Black Cinema, takes us right into the belly of the beast, sparing no indignity, allowing no one the assurance of moral sanctity or outright victimhood as it tells this story.

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