"Let the Fire Burn": The Story of a City That Preferred to Destroy Itself

Let the Fire Burn Jason Osder's documentary is constructed from archival footage concerning the events of a very bad day in May of 1985, when Philadelphia police laid siege to the fortified headquarters of the anarcho-primitivist Black Power group MOVE with water, tear gas, bullets, and, finally, explosives. The resulting fire caused the death of six adults and five children, the destruction of five dozen non-MOVE homes in the mostly black neighborhood, and an astonishing amount of inaction on the part of the authorities, who were content to let the fire do their work for them. There's no modern footage or 20/20-hindsight interviews, with only on-screen text filling in the gaps in narrative not covered by the video of the Special Investigation Commission's exhaustive hearing several months later, a contemporaneous interview with the heartbreakingly shy young boy who survived the ordeal, or the vast quantities of TV news coverage of the assault. (When the words "There was no camera with a direct view of the alley" appear on screen, it's a reminder that the unthinkable things we're witnessing are all real.) Let the Fire Burn doesn't spend much time on what made the cult-like MOVE or its charismatically deranged leader John Africa tick, but that's a deep enough topic to warrant its own movie.

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