Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"Let the Fire Burn": GWU documentary about police action in Philadelphia against "MOVE" in 1985, with tragic fire

Let the Fire Burn”, by Jason Osder, is the first film that I have seen made with the support of the George Washington University Documentary Film Center.
  
The film tells the story of one tragic incident in Philadelphia in 1985, depending mostly on somewhat fuzzy archival footage (including those of a hearing held in Oct. 1985), with no interviews of the people today.  The director says that their views on the incident really haven’t “crystallized” over the years.
    
The incident was the enormous fire on Osage Ave in the western part of the city that ensued when police dropped explosives to drive out members of the group MOVE, and the fire was allowed to burn for about an hour.  Sixty-one townhomes were burned and eleven died, including six children. Mayor Wilson Goode had to defend his actions.

The documentary telescopes the early history, with the concerns the city over the conditions in the groups’ homes back in 1978 and the effects on other neighbors.
  
The group was founded by John Africa, and had a strict ideology, with denial of electricity, although they had cars and phone.  The values sounded like those of aesthetic realism. It called itself a “Christian movement for life.” There is footage of the small children shown nude, with greatly exaggerated bellies, which the group claimed was a sign of being well fed rather than rather obvious nutritional deficiency.
What is shocking is that police could do so much destruction, which could affect so many neighbors, who were evacuated.  Many non-members had homes destroyed.  The city paid a contractor to rebuild them, but the rebuilt homes were condemned for shoddy construction in 2000.  To see what is there now would make a good day trip (as would to visit “Fishtown”, a concern of libertarian author Charles Murray). 
  
  
The official site is here. The film has been sold to PBS. 

Wikipedia has a history of the 1985 incident here.

I wondered if the George Washington University Documentary Center prefers focused stories on "small" and often forgotten historical incidents rather than broad-brush issue examination. The link for the Center is here.  Ironically, the West End Cinema shows the ad for GWU's program, but Landmark E Street does not. 
 
I saw the film at Landmark E Street Tuesday night, and the director was present for Q-A. 

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