Let the Fire Burn

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Let the Fire Burn
Let the Fire Burn poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJason Osder
Produced byJason Osder, Andrew Herwitz
Music byChris Mangum
Edited byNels Bangerter
Distributed byZeitgeist Films (USA)
Release date
October 2, 2013
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States

Let the Fire Burn is a 2013 documentary film about the events leading up to and surrounding a 1985 stand-off between the black liberation group MOVE and the Philadelphia Police Department. The film is directed and produced by Jason Osder and was released by Zeitgeist Films in October 2013.[1]


The MOVE organization was originally established as a "back to nature" movement that practiced "green" methods. In 1985 The police department decided to take action to evict the group from their row house at 6221 Osage Avenue. When gun fire broke out and tear gas was not enough to pull the MOVE members out of the house, the police decided to drop explosives on the house.

A fire soon began to blaze, endangering the several children now trapped inside the house. In a controversial decision, the police opted to "let the fire burn", resulting in the destruction of over 60 homes and the death of five children and six adults. Officials said they feared that MOVE would shoot at the firefighters.[2][3][4][5]

Eleven people (John Africa, five other adults, and five children aged 7 to 13) died in the resulting fire, and more than 250 people in the neighborhood were left homeless.[6] Ramona Africa, one of the two survivors, said that police fired at those trying to escape.[7] The investigation commission that followed found that city leaders and law enforcement had acted negligently, but no criminal charges were filed.



Following its world premiere at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, the film received uniformly positive reviews and has been a critical success throughout its theatrical run. At review aggregater Rotten Tomatoes, the film received overwhelmingly positive reviews with a 97% "certified fresh rating" and a consensus stating that the film is "Smartly edited and heartbreakingly compelling".[9]

"So I'll get right to it – the only truly great film I've seen at this year's Tribeca Film Festival is Jason Osder's searing Let the Fire Burn... It goes without saying that this masterpiece about an astounding and forgotten moment in recent American history should be seen far and wide; every American is an ambitious goal, so as many as possible will do. But let's just start with you, anonymous reader, and we'll go from there." -Brandon Harris, Filmmaker Magazine

"Critic's pick...Ranking with recent found-footage efforts like The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu and Senna, yet joining a still longer lineage, Let the Fire Burn relentlessly sustains its tragic momentum." -Nicolas Rapold, The New York Times[10]

"The doc's focus on period material confers an in-the-moment feel to the final product, bringing urgency to a story many in the audience will never have heard but which remains relevant after almost three decades." -John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter[11]

"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." -Steven Rea, Philly.com[12]

"Dispensing with the usual retrospective accounts and analytical chin-scratching, Osder creates both intensity and intimacy, inviting viewers simply to watch and listen as a tragedy – born of unchecked aggression, incoherent ideology and appallingly faulty logic – unfolds." -Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post[13]

"It's remarkable, gripping storytelling, told in grainy footage that nonetheless crackles with life, and it leaves the viewer angry at the senseless loss of lives and property. A clergyman, on the hearings panel, quietly reminds us what's at the heart of the entire, yearslong war between the police and MOVE: that it's possible to forget, in the heat of anger and procedure, that the person on the other side of a conflict is a human being." -Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times[14]

"Resisting the urge to include present-day interviews with any of the on-camera subjects – which would have broken the you-are-there intimacy and intensity of the archival footage – the documentary plays like a perfectly preserved time capsule whose contemporary relevance is without question. By calmly and unsettlingly laying out a snapshot of a city's darkest moments, Let The Fire Burn transcends its era to speak to the troubling issues of class, race and power that still haunt America 28 years later." -Tim Grierson, Screen International[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Obenson, Tambay. "Exclusive: Zeitgeist Films Takes US Rights To Powerful, Lauded Doc 'Let The Fire Burn'". IndiWire. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
  2. ^ 25 Years Ago: Philadelphia Police Bombs MOVE Headquarters Killing 11, Destroying 65 Homes democracynow.org. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  3. ^ Stevens, William K. (14 May 1985). "Police Drop Bomb on Radicals' Home in Philadelphia". New York Times. Archived from the original on 12 June 2012. Retrieved 31 August 2012.
  4. ^ Frank Trippett (May 27, 1985). "It Looks Just Like a War Zone". TIME magazine. Retrieved 2009-02-15. The Move property on Osage Avenue had become notorious for its abundant litter of garbage and human waste and for its scurrying rats and dozens of dogs. Bullhorns blared forth obscene tirades and harangues at all times of day and night. MOVE members customarily kept their children out of both clothes and school. They physically assaulted some neighbors and threatened others.
  5. ^ Brian Jenkins (April 2, 1996). "MOVE siege returns to haunt city". CNN.com. Retrieved 2008-08-01.
  6. ^ Terry, Don (1996-06-25). "Philadelphia Held Liable For Firebomb Fatal to 11". The New York Times. Retrieved May 13, 2010.
  7. ^ "Philadelphia MOVE Bombing Still Haunts Survivors". NPR. Retrieved 2013-05-14.
  8. ^ "Let the Fire Burn". Tribeca Film Festival. Archived from the original on 28 July 2013. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
  9. ^ Rotten Tomatoes, "Let The Fire Burn". Accessed April 9, 2014.
  10. ^ Rapold, Nicolas (1 October 2013). "Dropping In on Tragedy, as if You Were There". The New York Times.
  11. ^ DeFore, John (26 April 2013). "Let the Fire Burn: Tribeca Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
  12. ^ Rea, Steven. "MOVE doc gets theatrical distribution, will open in fall". Philly.com. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
  13. ^ Hornaday, Ann (5 December 2013). "'Let the Fire Burn' movie review: Documentary revisits the MOVE bombing of 1985". The Washington Post.
  14. ^ Macdonald, Moira. "'Let the Fire Burn': Emotions smolder long after conflict".
  15. ^ Grierson, Tim. "Let the Fire Burn".

External links[edit]