Let The Fire Burn (2013)



Critic Consensus: Smartly edited and heartbreakingly compelling, Let the Fire Burn uses archival footage to uncover a troubling -- and still deeply resonant -- chapter in American history.

Movie Info

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 radical urban 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 … More

Rating: Unrated
Genre: Documentary, Special Interest
Directed By:
In Theaters:
On DVD: Mar 25, 2014
Box Office: $59.0k
Zeitgeist Films - Official Site

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Critic Reviews for Let The Fire Burn

All Critics (41) | Top Critics (22)

Director Jason Osder's grieving account of the deadly police assault on the MOVE collective's fortified Philadelphia row house works small, continuous miracles with a variety of existing footage.

Full Review… | June 13, 2014
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

Jason Osder's stunning debut documentary offers a disturbing look at a forgotten tragedy.

Full Review… | June 13, 2014
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Top Critic

[Osder] cuts between news footage of the events as they unfurled and testimony from hearings held afterward to create a stark, nonjudgmental portrait of an incident that probably needn't have happened.

Full Review… | May 13, 2014
New York Times
Top Critic

"Let the Fire Burn" offers a searing picture of how dumb and dangerous humans can be.

Full Review… | January 23, 2014
Detroit News
Top Critic

It's scary as both a movie and a still-reverberating moment in time.

Full Review… | December 10, 2013
Top Critic

Brilliantly edited, the film moves back and forth in time, first tracking the events leading up to the confrontation through news reports of the day.

Full Review… | December 6, 2013
Globe and Mail
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Let The Fire Burn

A documentary earlier this year on Mumia Abu-Jamal piqued my interested in and reminded me about MOVE, a radical organization that had clashed with the police in Philadelphia in the 1970's and 1980's. Along comes "Let the Fire Burn," a documentary that makes excellent use of and relies exclusively on archival footage, especially that of a hearing into the events of May 13, 1985 that left 11 members of MOVE dead, including several children, and a neighborhood destroyed, as city authorities increasingly let events spiral out of control.

On the other hand, the format leaves room for some blind spots, namely the alley behind the MOVE headquarters where it is implied that Philadelphia policemen may have gathered to settle scores from a previous confrontation with MOVE that left a policeman dead and for which 9 MOVE members were convicted on sentences lasting decades. At the same time, three policemen were acquitted on assault charges of a MOVE member, even though they were captured on videotape.

At first, in the 1970's, MOVE claimed to be a self-sufficient organization funded on self-defense means like the Black Panthers, as one of the founders had been in the Black Panthers, too, while being labeled a cult and terrorist organization by outsiders.(There is nothing so frightening to a racist than an armed black man.) Here, some more blind spots arise, as questions arise about the internal activities of MOVE, as they also angered their neighbors, and eventually the city government. Its later incarnation in 1984-1985 was even more combative, and I would not disagree with a commenter, that at the time, they sought to directly confront the police, a battle they could not hope to win.

Walter M.

Super Reviewer


I am not a big documentary buff. I will only check something out unless it catches my eye and interests me enough to see it. This piece of American history is something I have NEVER heard about which is why it caught my interest. It deals with the tragic and negligent actions made on the Philly police department (and it's mayor) for creating what would be known as the Osage Avenue Tragedy. It was based around the immediate actions that were needed to made against a certain "organization" known as MOVE. This "organization" was devised of Black people who were trying to create their own peaceful lifestyle based around the sayings of a man named John Africa. This "organization" would challenge the state of Philly, it's mayor and it's people in what THEY considered as life.

Try to imagine a time in the 70s. Racism was still alive and well, but mostly hidden at this point. It just needed to be boiled up in certain kind of way. MOVE certainly helped in rising the racial tensions and giving a whole new meaning of controlled life. Philly police, even in the 70s and 80s (maybe still, I don't know) were racist. They beat the crap out of MOVE members and imprisoned many. Their actions were and are not applicable since they overshot humanity for instead inhumanity. It was a very disgusting set of circumstances, yes, except to end human life without any other regard was sicker. Don't get me wrong. I'm not rooting for MOVE here. I think they had it coming unfortunately.

Now MOVE in general may sound like a good "organization" since violence isn't exactly their motto, but it's far from it.

Now you're probably wondering, WHAT IS MOVE? Well, it's a black group of people who all have the same last name (Africa) and live by nature. They object to Technology even though they drive cars and use telephones. A contradiction if there ever was one. It was founded in 1972 by John Africa. Also known as such for creating a set of guidelines which are known as the MOVE's bible. He's like a black Jesus except in this documentary he's slightly glossed over. I would have liked to have known more about John Africa, but I guess this is more about the tragedy instead. Oh well.

Even though MOVE is mainly peaceful, there lifestyle is anything from it. They live like animals and denigrate entirely from anything the outside world does. It's kind of like what a teenager does when they want to defy society. They rebel against it. That sort of sums up their cause. Like I mentioned, contradicting attitudes within their own "organization" is also equal to the state of their very own religion.

Their biggest flaw was to incorporate their own religion, but what the problem is if a religion is the basis for all life than why put yourself in one that restricts it. Religion usually restricts life because you're forcing yourself into a corner with rules and regulations or commandments. I have nothing against religion and do believe in God to a certain extent, but I am open enough to the wait and see attitude of when we die. We can never really be sure until we reach that point of no return. MOVE, however, wanted just one thing and that was THERE thing. Since they figured that Christians, Catholics and other religions get to have theirs, why shouldn't they?

This documentary brings up a LOT of moral questions and will challenge you on what is right and what is wrong. Frankly, I believe what the extremes the Philly mayor at the time did and the police were wrong. I also believe that what MOVE was doing was wrong as well. They were shit disturbers who populated a nice, predominately black neighborhood by creating noise and chaos. Even the newly appointed (and first) black mayor of Philly would prove to be annoyed by MOVE and would contribute more to what the previous white mayor did before him when containing the issue of this "organization". What would happen would be an excessive excuse of power over a group.

Was MOVE a terrorist threat? No. Were they stupid? Yes. Were the Philly police wrong? Yes & NO. When a group defies THE system they best be prepared for either death or prison. MOVE didn't do anything but cost people their homes and put people out on the streets. They provided absolutely no progress for their children, but instead wanted to go back to the old ways. Amish people they were not, but they certainly tried!

This documentary is edited together from news reports and court hearings along with other documented stuff that revolved around the MOVE "organization". It was a powerful and well-made documentary that showed a moment in history that was so stupid.

The Vulture

Or The One Where Footage From the 80s is More Captivating Than Most Documentaries I See...

It is something of a spectacle to watch director Jason Osder tell the story of the feud between the city of Philadelphia and the MOVE group through archival footage and news reports. The film is one of the most engrossing and captivating documentaries I've seen. Even if there are some choices I found to be a little jarring, 97% of the film is so fascinating that I forgot about these choices within seconds of their appearances.

What seems to be so miraculous in this film though is how objective Osder seems to be. I've rarely watched a documentary that portrays an event in an entertaining, thrilling, and educational way, without having an obvious bias. However, Let the Fire Burn is content to simply allow the events to unfold before our eyes, and reveal that there were no winners here. Everyone had a part to play in the tragedy that unfolded, and we have a lot to learn from these mistakes.

Osder is a fantastic storyteller working in a medium that often gets stuck in its conventions, and he found a way with Let the Fire Burn to play on these conventions without breaking them.

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