Jason Osder spent ten years making Let the Fire Burn, a harrowing documentary account of the confrontation – and ensuing conflagration – between members of MOVE and the Philadelphia Police Department, resulting in the death of six adult members of the Afrocentric back-to-nature organization, and five children.
The documentary -- which incorporates archival video from the MOVE Commission, police video, TV news footage, and a deposition interview with then 13-year-old Birdie Africa (now Michael Moses Ward), the sole child inside the MOVE compound to survive – premiered in April at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Now, Zeitgeist Films has acquired Let the Fire Burn for theatrical release. The indie distributor, with Hannah Arendt currently in theaters, will open Osder's picture on Oct. 2 at the Film Forum in New York. The film will debut in Philadelphia and other markets in the weeks thereafter.
Noteworthy for its "historical verite" approach – no talking head interviews, no narration, no B-roll footage or reenactments – Let the Fire Burn brings the tragic events of May 13, 1985, back to life, forcing audiences to ask how police, Fire Department and city officials could stand by and watch as a helicopter dropped an incendiary device on the MOVE compound in West Philadelphia, and then let the subsequent fire rage into the night, ultimately leveling three city blocks and destroying 61 homes.
Osder, who grew up on Montgomery County and was 11 at the time of the MOVE bombing, is an assistant professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. Let the Fire Burn, his first feature-length title, is certain to be the subject of intense debate when it opens this fall.