Documentary Review : Let The Fire Burn (2013)

IMSB Score – 7.4
Rotten Tomato Score – 97%

Directed By – John Osder

A documentary that looks back to May 13, 1985 – the day Philadelphia police exploded the home occupied by the radical group MOVE, and the resulting fire that killed five children and six adults, while destroying sixty-one homes in its wake.

First off, I’m back everybody. I decided not to write a post about it but I recently moved to Fort Lee, New Jersey over the last week. Between my regular person job, packing, and various other social activities, I just haven’t been able to sit down for an extended amount of time and watch a film. Luckily, I am now pretty much all settled in my new apartment where I’ll be spending some good time trying not to run out of money. I have a plan for that. I will hole up in my place and spend my evenings watching various things until I save up enough money to actually go outside and have fun. There should be some posts coming your way now.

My initiation back into writing mode could not have been a better one. Having redirected my Netflix account to my new address, “Let the Fire Burn” made its way to my mailbox just in time for a lazy Sunday. Ever since I read about the film I wanted to see it due to my infatuation with new things. I had never heard about the events that happened on May 13th, 1985 and this surprised me. I usually know, at least in gist, about events such as these. I’m familiar with Waco, Texas, Jonestown, Oklahoma City, all those various events that captured the nation by storm and turned us into zombies glued to the television. The fact that I have never even heard about the fires that destroyed 61 homes or even heard mention of the MOVE organization strikes me strange. I was instantly interested form the go and what I ended up witnessing was a haunting, fantastically edited debut film from directer John Osder. Let’s get the details of what happened out of the way.

The MOVE organization is a cult. There is no doubt about this Interviews with members try to paint a different story in that they are only abiding by our constitutional right to freedom of religion but when you have punishment for sneaking in forbidden items, you have the making of a cult. MOVE members do not engage in anything related to technology besides a few items that could potentially aid in their movement. They have a telephone yet not running lights or entertainment such as televisions or radios. They live basically off the land with an abundance of food such as watermelon, mangoes, onions, and anything that can be grown in the ground. For protein they eat raw meat from chicken to beef to fish. They are forbidden from eating cooked meat and punishment for doing so can be as extreme as beatings. This is where the cult forms. All of these rules and ways of life stems down from founder and leader John Africa. Members, who all done the last name of Africa, look at their founder as a Jesus Christ figure, even comparing him to Christ for his ideals and even his carpentry. The carpentry part is important as we’ll find out later.

I wanted to set up the details of the organization because of how unique it was. This is not an organization that bass their headquarters in some remote location in the Midwest. This is in the heart of West Philadelphia. It’s like if an African American/Amish community raided the streets of “Do the Right Thing”. Kids are playing on the street while members are schooling young children in their compound in the next yard. It’s a very surreal sight that I just didn’t realize could happen in such an urban city. What everything ended up culminating to was basically a militarized compound smack dab on a street with regular Philly people trying to go about their lives. It’s the escalation of the cult that was so fascinating to me. Small confrontations with police grew into gigantic standoffs with deadly repercussions. It was a wild ride punctuated by some talented editing involving home movies, interviews with members, video footage of committee depositions after the events, and live footage from news outlets. All of this culminated into a riveting story, and ultimately a tragic one.

What the film ended up doing for me, without giving away details, was change my support from the police, back to the cult, back to the police, and so on and so on. What ended up happening on May 13th was a culmination of ignorance from the cult cherry topped with complete negligence from the Philadelphia police department. In simpler terms, it was a shit show of major proportions. The way the film attacks this story however is one of immense dedication to being as unbiased as possible and letting the viewer decide for their selves. I personally was riveted during the entire film. I was on the edge of my seat in disbelief until the credits began to roll and if any of you reading this have had no prior knowledge to this event like I did then it is safe to say that you will as well. It was one of the best documentaries I’ve seen that chronicled an event such as this. It was as I was watching it with an unbiased opinion as it was happening but in realty the whole thing went unnoticed over twenty years ago. It’s a superb film and I’m glad to be back everybody.

4.5/5

Suggested Viewing – Bus 174, The Central Park Five, West Memphis Three, Burma VJ





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