“Blame is a broad brush.” These are the words of former Philadelphia Fire Commissioner William Richmond, assessing one of the darkest moments in the history of American law enforcement: the row-house blaze at MOVE headquarters that killed 11 people on May 13, 1985. In Let The Fire Burn, filmmaker Jason Osder deftly weaves local news broadcasts, taped depositions and excerpts from the post-conflagration public hearing—a remarkable airing of municipal dirty laundry—into an engrossing account of the tragedy and its aftermath. Equal parts history and exposé, this probing documentary addresses culpability but also moves beyond it, posing a deeper question about the apparent breakdown of civil authority when faced with a threat—real or perceived—to the social order. Here that threat is embodied by MOVE, Philadelphia's Africanist 'back-to-nature' movement. Founded in 1972, MOVE soon drew the ire of neighboring families—and the Philadelphia police—as its agrarian communal ethos gave way to increasingly strident provocations. Racial tensions between the largely African American group and white law enforcement officers soon erupted into a spate of arrests, incidents of police brutality and growing violence. Through its careful arrangement of archival footage, this film vividly recounts how a volatile brew of revolutionary fervor, racial tension and the breakdown of civil authority exploded into violence and brought the conflict to a fiery end.
Co-presenter: USF Human Rights Film Festival