Let the Fire Burn

Let the Fire Burn

About the Film

Let the Fire Burn is composed entirely with archival footage yet unfurls with the tension of a thriller. Jason Osder’s documentary recounts the steps that led to a horrific tragedy on May 13, 1985, when a longtime feud between the city of Philadelphia and the controversial radical urban group MOVE came to a deadly climax. MORE

Formed in 1972 as a “back to nature” commune by the charismatic leader John Africa, MOVE members took the same surname in honor of their ancestral homeland, wore their hair in dreadlocks, shunned technology, and promoted a diet of raw food. Grappling for a way to describe the group, reporters sometimes referred to MOVE as a “cult” and later as “terrorists.”

Living together in a home in West Philadelphia, MOVE’s unorthodox lifestyle lead to conflicts with neighbors and clashes with the police. In 1978, this resulted in deadly violence when officer James Ramp was killed in a shootout between police and MOVE members. Nine MOVE members were later convicted for this murder, although they maintained that Ramp was really killed by friendly fire. Eventually the MOVE members set up in a new home in the Cobbs Creek area of West Philadelphia, where tensions between neighbors, the city, and MOVE would reach a full boil. In 1985, after many complaints about broadcasts via loudspeaker as well as worries over health hazards, the city took action to evict the group from their row house, using force.

After a daylong battle in which the police used teargas, firehoses, and ultimately 10,000 rounds of ammunition in an attempt to remove MOVE members from their fortified home, authorities order military-grade explosives to be dropped on the house from a helicopter. News 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. It was only later discovered that authorities decided to “let the fire burn.” Using only archival news coverage and interviews for a past in present tense approach, 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.

The Filmmaker

Jason Osder

Jason Osder is an assistant professor at The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs and a partner at Amigo Media, a color-correction, post-production, and training company. Osder co-authored Final Cut Pro Workflows: The Independent Studio Handbook with Robbie Carman, his partner at Amigo, and creates online training courses for Lynda.com. Jason received a Masters of Arts in Mass Communication in Documentary from the University of Florida. Let the Fire Burn is his first feature film. LESS

Film Credits

Directed and Produced by
Jason Osder

Edited by
Nels Bangerter

Executive Producer
Andrew Herwitz

Original Music by
Christopher Mangum

Associate Producer
John Aldrich

Robbie Carman

Sound Design
Cheryl Ottenritter
and Richard Shapiro

Re-Recording Mixer
Cheryl Ottenritter

Online Editor
Michael Kahn

Legal Services
Donaldson & Callif

Research Assistants
Andrea Vittorio
Clara Pak

Ryder Haske
Stephanie Phoebus
Ralston Smith

Additional Production
Darryl Pugh

Additional Research
Rosemary Rotondi

Transfers and Duplications
Jeff Slauzsis

Original Score
Performed by The Sofia Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra
Christopher Mangum, conductor

Additional Musicians
Bruno Nasta - viola
Marcio Botelho - cello

Additional Music
"Gnossienne No. 5"
Written by Erik Satie, 1889
Performed by Emily White

Footage and Stills Provided by
6ABC Philadelphia
ABC News
The Associated Press
CBS3 Philadelphia
NBC10 Philadelphia
The Philadelphia Daily News
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Karen Pomer
Temple University
WGBH Boston
WHYY Philadelphia Public Television

Special Thanks
Ramona Africa
Stephanie Baldwin
James Berghaier
Doug Block
Charles Bowser
Michael Boyette
Randi Boyette
William Brown III
Catherine Carman
Harvey Clarke
Sandra Dickson
Drexel University
Traci Drummond
Kristin Feely
Jeffrey Foot
Brenda Galloway-Wright
Dorothy Gilliam
Erica Ginsberg
Milton Ginsberg
Megan Glass
Kristie Gonzales
Dave Gorrie
Blaine Graboyes
Kimberly Gross
Jeremy Guyre
Dean Hamer
Kerric Harvey
Matthew Hindman
Cindie Hurley
Jason Ishikawa
Chithra Jeyram
Phil Katz
Erick Lee
Michael Lerman
Mharlyn Merritt
Saira Mohamed
Ian Olds
John Ottenritter
Barbara Osder and Murray Rapoport
John Pettit
Thom Powers
Temple University Urban Archive
Rahul Ready
Rachel Rakes
Alex Roldan
Roxanne Russell
Juan Salvo
Frank Sesno
Mike Shanahan
Shrager, Spivey & Sachs, LLP.
Robin Wagner-Pacifici
Michael Moses Ward

Production Support Provided by ITVS

Funding Provided by The Sundance Institute

Let the Fire Burn was produced by Jason Osder and The George Washington University
who are solely responsible for its content.

© Jason Osder and The George Washington University. All rights reserved.

What do you think the local government and police should or could have done differently in the MOVE tragedy? Have you been close to or have memories of another tragic standoff?
What do you think the local government and police should or could have done differently in the MOVE tragedy? Have you been close to or have memories of another tragic standoff?