[Atlanta Film Festival] Documentaries: Man On Fire (2018) - Reviewed

Man on Fire screened at ATLFF

Man On Fire is an independent documentary directed and produced by Joel Fendelman, the film focuses on the town of Grand Saline in east Texas and the issues of racism in both the town and in America. The premise of the film begins after local pastor and activist, Thomas Moore, self-immolates himself in an act of protest against Grand Saline’s racist history, hoping that his death would help bring attention to the towns need to repent for its past.

Filmed through various interviews with friends, family members and residents of Saline, the film has no narration, instead each take between interviews goes through with very somber sad music and an interpretation of what Moore’s last day could have looked like.

The film is a somber one, filled with strong language that some may find offensive; yet the message of the film makes you think. Some residents think Moore was insane, others really think about what happened. The interviews with his family and those that witness the event unfold could bring you to tears.

Yet it is Fendelman's cinematography and filming style that honestly makes the film, from the beautiful shots of the Texas grasslands, to the old fashioned streets of Saline, the film is gorgeous to look at.

The way Fendelman filmed those being interviewed is different than your typical documentary, as instead of being filmed in a dreary office, every single person on camera has their own unique background. From Saline’s unique museum filled with many historical photos, to a bookstore where an individual sits in front of hundreds of books, the film does all it can to keep your eyes in the screen while someone explains their story.

Yet all visuals aside, things do start slow at first, yet as the film progresses, the overall message and story will draw viewers in. You hear both sides of the story in this film, some speak of violence and racism while others may defensively deny any existence of it in Saline. Yet the sheer amount of people talked to give you a wide range of the perspective on the issue from many different people who are from a wide range of different backgrounds.

Overall, I would wholeheartedly recommend this documentary for anyone who wants to explore the issues of race in America. While it may be called Man on Fire, it explores so much more about rural America and the issues that still haunt the region to this day. 

Share this review.

-John Bozick