In May of 1985, a ravenous fire ripped through Osage Avenue in urban Philadelphia, leaving 11 people dead. It wasn't an isolated incident; it was an example of history repeating, the tragic result of near-decade-long friction between members of a black militant group calling themselves MOVE and the local police department finally reaching critical mass.
In his impressive documentary Let the Fire Burn , director Jason Osder uses the fire as a reference point to peer back in time and explore the historical context that led to the incident. Still, as more information unfolds regarding the complex (and sometimes damning) ideological tactics wielded by MOVE and city hall, the fire also becomes a raging symbol for institutional failure.
Consisting entirely of found-footage interviews and archival b-roll, Let the Fire Burn provides an array of details leading up to the Osage Avenue tragedy. But the film finds its structural skeleton in the testimony and cross-examination of an independent special commission investigating post-fire. The result is a fragile dance between past and present, a master class in editorial nimbleness.
Let the Fire Burn is an exceptional piece of nonfiction because it doesn't judge one side more harshly than the other. Instead, the film calls to task both the police for their vengeful tactics (spawned by a previous run-in with the group that left an officer dead) and MOVE for its strident and bitter resistance to compromise no matter the cost.
Representing the innocents caught in the middle is young Michael Moses Ward, the child of a MOVE member and one of the only survivors whose deposition adds even more perspective to the proceedings.
There's no clear cause-and-effect in a situation such as the Osage Avenue tragedy, and Osder embraces this ambiguity, showing history as a gap-riddled human mosaic primed for reappraisal by objective eyes.
12 Years a Slave : Abducted and forced to work on a Southern plantation, free man Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejifor) experiences the horrors of slavery in Steve McQueen's stirring period-piece drama.
About Time : In Richard Curtis' ( Love Actually ) charming modern fable co-starring Rachel McAdams, a young man discovers he can travel through time and seeks to use his power to find his soul mate.
Doonby : When a handsome drifter appears out of nowhere, the citizens of a small town are faced with a mysterious character who may or may not be a threat. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
Ender's Game : Orson Scott Card's classic sci-fi novel about a young pilot fending off an alien threat finally gets adapted for the big screen, surely angering fans everywhere. Harrison Ford co-stars as a growling general.
Fame High : A group of high-school freshmen and seniors experience a rush of new emotions in this powerful documentary by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Scott Hamilton-Kennedy. Screens through Nov. 6 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Free Birds : This animated film follows two combative turkeys (voiced by Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson) as they try to get the gobbler off the holiday menu by traveling back in time.
The Last Elvis : Factory worker by day, singer by night, "Elvis" Gutierrez attempts to make it big by impersonating the King of Rock, slowly becoming more connected with his alter ego than his own family. Screens through Nov. 7 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Last Vegas : A foursome of aging Oscar-winning actors (Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and Robert De Niro) play seniors who head to Las Vegas for one final hurrah of debauchery and camaraderie.
Let the Fire Burn : In May 1985, police surrounded a residence in urban Philadelphia to evict a black militant group called MOVE. One day later, three square blocks were ravaged by fire and 11 people were dead. This meticulous documentary examines in detail why it happened. Screens through Nov. 7 at the Ken Cinema.
The Pin : An old man recalls his experiences during WWII, when he met a beautiful young woman trying escape the Nazis. The two develop a relationship while hiding in an abandoned house in the forest. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
One Time Only
Halloween : John Carpenter's horror masterpiece introduced the world to Michael Myers, a masked psycho hellbent on destroying his family name one knife thrust at a time. Screens at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30, at Hillcrest Cinemas.
The Shining : Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's novel is a gorgeous exploration of insanity spreading like wildfire. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30, at Arclight La Jolla and at midnight on Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Ken Cinema.
Psycho : The movie that single-handedly caused an upswing in bath-taking. Screens at 1 and 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31 at Reading Town Square Cinemas in Clairemont.
The Birds : When animals attack, Hitchcock-style. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31, through Saturday, Nov. 2, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
The Spirit of the Beehive : Victor Erice's masterpiece of 1970s Spanish cinema follows a young girl's relationship with her family and her obsession with the film Frankenstein at the onset of Franco's regime. Screens at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1, at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.
The Garden : Academy Award-nominated documentary about a group of poor Los Angeles residents who turned urban spoil into an organic Eden. Screens at 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Shadow Dancer : Clive Owen plays an MI6 operative trying to squeeze information out of deceptively sneaky IRA operative (Andrea Riseborough in an astounding performance). Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3, at the San Diego Public Library in East Village.
Eye on the 60s: The Iconic Photography of Rowland Scherman : Documentary about the life and career of the man who would become the first Peace Corps photographer and a renowned documenter of presidents and other government officials. Screens at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.
Starbuck : A man who's been donating sperm for years finds out he has more than a few children. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4, at the San Diego Public Library in East Village.
Europa Report : Found-footage science-fiction film about a group of astronauts on a mission to one of Jupiter's largest moons who experience a collective psychological breakdown. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5, at the Hervey Branch Library in Point Loma.
All is Lost : A nameless Man (Robert Redford) battles extreme weather and technology failure to keep his small sailboat afloat in this thrilling tale of survival from director J.C. Chandor ( Margin Call ).
The Counselor : Director Ridley Scott brings esteemed author Cormac McCarthy's first feature screenplay to life. The story centers on a corrupt lawyer (Michael Fassbender) who gets in deep with a drug kingpin (Brad Pitt).
A Fierce Green Fire : This documentary about 21st-century environmental activism was inspired by the book of the same name by Philip Shabecoff and features narration by Robert Redford, Ashley Judd and Meryl Streep. Screens through Oct. 31, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
House in the Alley : Psychological horror film from Vietnam about a young couple who experience ghostly visions after losing a baby to miscarriage.
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa : After grossing out America in 3-D, Johnny Knoxville gives his grumpy, ill-mannered, senior-citizen sketch character a feature-film platform.
Kill Your Darlings : The major icons of the beatnik movement meet at Columbia University in 1943 and spend their early years writing, drinking, dreaming and falling from grace. Stars Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg and Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr.
San Diego Italian Film Festival: An impressive array of feature films, documentaries and special events highlight San Diego's premiere celebration of Italian art and culture. Runs through Nov. 2, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. Get details at sandiegoitalianfilm
Two Jacks : A powerful director (Danny Huston) tries to mold his son into a cinema powerhouse in this drama about the corruptive nature of Hollywood. Ends Nov. 3, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
The Wicker Man : See the "definitive" final cut of the cult 1970s horror film in this restoration by Rialto Pictures. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
Zaytoun : Set in 1982 during the Lebanese civil war, this drama tells the story of an Israeli pilot (Stephen Dorff) who's shot down and imprisoned in a Palestine refugee camp, where he meets a young boy who's recently lost his father. Ends Oct. 31 at the Ken Cinema.
A.C.O.D .: Adam Scott plays a repressed 30-something whose parents' nasty divorce becomes the gift that keeps on giving even into adulthood. The comedy co-stars Richard Jenkins, Catherine O'Hara and Jessica Alba. Ends Oct. 31 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
African Film Celebration: Experience the diversity of African film, food and music at this celebration running through Sunday, Oct. 27. The final two movies screen on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park. Get the schedule at africanfoodsd.com.
Carrie : A supped-up remake of the classic 1976 horror film that nobody asked for and probably no one will like. But, hey, that's Hollywood! Stars Chloë Grace Moretz as the titular shy girl turned telekinetic monster.
Escape Plan : Action icons Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger play aging inmates trying to escape from a super-maximum security prison by combining their brainpower. Talk about a work of fiction.
The Fifth Estate : Benedict Cumberbatch stars as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in this biopic that spans the rise and fall of the infamous Internet pioneer, notably his clash with the U.S. government over damning video clips from the war in Iraq. Ends Oct. 31 at La Jolla Village Cinemas.
Captain Phillips : Based on actual events, this thriller by director Paul Greengrass tells the story of the container ship Maersk Alabama and its leader, Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks), who was kidnapped by Somali pirates during a voyage in 2009.
Machete Kills : Danny Trejo reprises his role as the betrayed federale who must once again wield his brutal weaponry and bed women in the name of the people.
Muscle Shoals : Music documentary celebrating Rick Hall, the founder of FAME Studios, which produced such staples as "Brown Sugar" and "When a Man Loves a Woman." Ends Oct. 31 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Romeo and Juliet : Yet another cinematic incarnation of Shakespeare's ultimate romantic tragedy, this time starring Hailee Steinfeld ( True Grit ) as the love-stricken Juliet.
Born to be Wild : Morgan Freeman narrates this stunning IMAX wildlife documentary about scientists trying to save elephants in Kenya and orangutans in Borneo. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Deep Sea : A glorious ocean exploration with Del Mar's own veteran underwater filmmakers and explorers, Howard and Michele Hall. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Gravity : Sandra Bullock plays a marooned astronaut struggling to survive an epic space disaster in Alfonso Cuarón's breathless adventure film.
Runner Runner : Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake star in this thriller about a gambling prodigy who hunts down the gangster responsible for sending him to the poor house.
Don Jon : Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed and stars in this coming-of-age story about a young New Jersey lothario addicted to the fantasy world of pornography.
Enough Said : The latest slice of modern melodrama from director Nicole Holofcener ( Please Give ) features a mosaic of confused couples. Stars James Gandolfini in his last screen role.
Inequality for All : Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich uses the documentary as platform to raise awareness of the country's widening economic gap.
Rush : Ron Howard's biopic about the bitter rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), who battled for track supremacy throughout the 1970s.
Wadjda : In this first film shot completely in Saudi Arabia, an enterprising Saudi girl competes in her school's Koran-recitation contest to raise the remaining funds she needs for a green bicycle that has captured her interest.
Prisoners : A desperate father (Hugh Jackman) takes the law into his own hands after his daughter disappears, despite the ongoing investigation by a dedicated police officer (Jake Gyllenhaal).
The Family : Robert De Niro's career continues to plummet in this dark comedy about a New York City family of mobsters living in France under false identities.
Insidious Chapter 2 : More horrific and ghostly images from director James Wan, the devious auteur behind Saw , The Conjuring and, of course, Insidious .
Instructions Not Included : A smarmy playboy (Eugenio Derbez) gets a rude awakening when an ex-flame drops off a baby at his doorstep, forcing him to become an unlikely father figure.
Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation : The venerable edgy 'toon-fest has returned to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's La Jolla location with a 20th-anniversary show that runs through Nov. 23.
Lee Daniels' The Butler : Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) serves as a butler in the White House for seven consecutive presidents, witnessing shifts in civil rights and foreign policy from a fascinating vantage point.
We're the Millers : In order to sneak a huge Mexican weed shipment into the U.S., a veteran pot dealer (Jason Sudeikis) creates a fake family in hopes of bypassing authorities. Co-starring Jennifer Aniston.
Blue Jasmine : Woody Allen's latest comedy showcases the amazing Cate Blanchett as an entitled 1-percenter who experiences a harrowing fall from grace.
Despicable Me 2 : Gru (Steve Carell) and his army of minions attempt to transcend their roles as villains and save the world in this sequel to the popular 2010 animated film.
Cosmic Collisions : So, that asteroid that might smash into Earth in 20 years is much bigger than previously thought? Awesome. This new IMAX movie at the Reuben H. Fleet looks at what happens when things bash into each other in outer space. On the bright side, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, at least future species will have a new source of fossil fuels.
Flight of the Butterflies: It turns out Monarch butterflies are much like SDSU students—every year, thousands of them head to Mexico. This IMAX film captures their beautiful trip. The butterflies, that is. Ends Oct. 31 at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.