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Let the Fire Burn

31 customer reviews

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Let the Fire Burn + Let It Burn: MOVE, the Philadelphia Police Department, and the Confrontation that Changed a City
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Editorial Reviews

In the astonishingly gripping Let the Fire Burn, director Jason Osder has crafted that rarest of cinematic objects: a found-footage film that unfurls with the tension of a great thriller. On May 13, 1985, a longtime feud between the city of Philadelphia and controversial Black Power group MOVE came to a deadly climax. By order of local authorities, police dropped military-grade explosives onto a MOVE-occupied rowhouse. TV cameras captured the conflagration that quickly escalated and resulted in the tragic deaths of eleven people (including five children) and the destruction of 61 homes. Using only archival news coverage and interviews, first-time filmmaker Osder has brought to life one of the most tumultuous and largely forgotten clashes between government and citizens in modern American history.

Product Details

  • Actors: Birdie Africa, John Africa
  • Directors: Jason Osder
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Zeitgeist Films
  • DVD Release Date: March 25, 2014
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78,984 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Paul Allaer TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 18, 2013
Format: DVD
"Let The Fire Burn" (2013 release; 95 min.) is a documentary about the fateful events of May 13, 1985 in West Philadelphia. The documentary opens with a brief glimpse of the raging fire on that day, and then the start of the public investigation hearings 5 months later. The documentary traces back to the early days of the radical MOVE group, founded in 1972 by John Africa as a "back to earth" movement but in reality being an all-out radical group which always was the "victim of society". The documentary is divided into 6 chapters and an epilogue, and consists entirely of archive footage (mostly from TV) from the 70s and 80s.

Several comments: I was aware of the terrible events from May, 1985 but really didn't know much about the MOVE group. This documentary does a great job filling in the gaps, and for that reason alone this is a worthwhile movie to watch. Second, you can't help but feel terrible for the young Michael (I think he is 13 years old) whom we see being deposed some months after the events. At one point he admits he wanted to flee so that he could do "what the other kids were doing" (i.e. playing in the streets, etc.). Third, the documentary becomes a great time capsule of what (urban) life was like in the late 70s and early 80s, it seems already so much longer ago than just the 30-some years ago. Fourth, regardless of how you feel about the politics of the MOVE group (and I certainly wouldn't call myself in agreement with them--on the contrary), the plain stupidity and negligence of the decision makers and powers that be (the mayor, the police chief, the fire chief) to let the fire burn to the point where it became out of control, is just appalling.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Steve Ramm TOP 100 REVIEWER on March 31, 2014
Format: DVD
Having lived in Philadelphia for over 45 years, I lived through the various “confrontations” that the police and neighbors had with the MOVE “organization” over the years. MOVE members, past and present, resent having it called a “cult”; it’s an “organization”. It was the prime story on all three local TV stations in the 1970s when the group was house in the Powelton Village section of Philly and in 1985 when the MOVE headquarters on Osage Avenue was, literally, bombed and the whole block was destroyed. It’s been nearly 30 years since that last event and it came back to local news in September 2013 when the sole surviving child from the bombing, Birdie Africa (whose real name is Michael Ward) died at age 41 – leaving 2 sons). This well-crafted documentary –directed by filmmaker Jason Osder and produced at the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs - was completed and released to theaters and film festivals before Ward’s death and the DVD version contains some special features that add to the story.

I won’t go into much detail about the event or the film. My fellow reviewer –Paul Allaer - has done that already. I will point out that Osder used only archival footage to hell the story in 95 minutes. What holds this all together is footage of the public hearings held at the studios of public broadcasting station WHYY which aired in Philadelphia. Nearly every person important to the story – the police and fire commissioners, the district attorney and two former MOVE members – were interviewed at these hearings. Osder adds titles and captions and music. The rest is all “found footage” from the three TV stations’ archives.

There are three bonus features. The most important one is a 14 minute interview with Michael Ward from 2002.
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Format: DVD
This film centers on the relationship of the unorthodox MOVE organization (We are not a cult!) and the city of Philadelphia, both the authorities and neighbors. It uses a community hearing and testimony from one of the child members as the main source plus actual film footage. MOVE supplied re-enactments when needed.

The first question posed by the film was are they a cult or an organization? When everyone in the group adopts the surname of the founder and they all proclaim they are following the "strategy of John Africa" what you have is a cult no matter how many times you call it an organization.

The second question posed was are they a terrorist group or an organization. I assume they believed everyone would come to the conclusion they were an organization because John Africa claimed they were an organization.

The movie had actual recordings of the MOVE organization shouting f-bombs and MF-bombs through a megaphone into a residential area street where children play. Can't say I would want them as a neighbor. The fact that it took the city to burn down their house before the neighbors did turned out to be the biggest mystery of the film.

Rule of thumb: When the government shows up at your door heavily armed (or with a tank like Waco) that is not the time to decide you are within your right to stay put, whether you are or not. You can make your argument later, file a civil rights suit etc. Now if you believe you can't win in court because the system is stacked against you, and you would rather take your odds against a tank, go ahead be my guest because you really don't belong in the gene pool anyway.
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