Review: What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?
by Camillo De Marco
- VENICE 2018: Roberto Minervini's new film about racial division in the United States is an authentic and well-observed documentary
Racism is very much alive and kicking in the United States today. The facts tell the story: you can watch videos showing "suspicious" unarmed black people being killed by the police on YouTube, 69 of these deaths occurred in the first four months of 2018 alone. Associations and commissions testify to this. It's also backed up by the stats: a quarter of the 40 million African Americans living in the US in 2018 live below the poverty line and the black/white income gap has increased by 40% over the course of the last 50 years, with four million people currently unemployed and one million people in prison.
The Italian documentary film-maker Roberto Minervini – who is competing for the Golden Lion in Competition at Venice Film Festival with What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? [+see also:
interview: Roberto Minervini
film profile] – delved deeper into the racial divide in one state in particular, Louisiana, where there is a greater disparity in the distribution of wealth than in South Africa during the apartheid.A film that very much captures a community’s’ fear and proximity to violence, while restoring the phenomenon’s proportions, starting with the lives of a few individuals.
Minervini spent weeks with the people who would later become the documentary's protagonists. 150 hours of footage was then edited down to 123 minutes of pure and elegant black and white film by the trusty Marie-Hélène Dozo (The Unknown Girl [+see also:
Q&A: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
film profile] by the Dardenne brothers). A style that was developed in Minervini’s previous all "American" films after he came onto the scene at Venice in 2012 with Low Tide [+see also:
film profile] in the Orizzonti section, before rocking up at Cannes a year later with Stop the Pounding Heart [+see also:
film profile], out of competition, and then again in 2015 with Louisiana (The Other Side) [+see also:
interview: Roberto Minervini
film profile] in the Un Certain Regard section.
The director only followed the daily activities of a few characters in the summer of 2017, when a series of young black people were killed by the police, shaking the African-American community to its core. Ronaldo and Titus are two conscious brothers whose young single mother has kept them out of trouble. Judy, from a family of musicians in Tremé – the oldest black neighbourhood in New Orleans – took over the historic bar Ooh Poo Pah Doo, which has become a reference point for drinking, playing music and discussing black issues. The New Black Panthers, reborn 50 years after Angela Davis' revolutionary movement, preaches about a revolution and is highly criticised by associations fighting against racism in the USA. Minervini, however, follows them in their search for the truth about the lynching and decapitation of two young black men in Jackson, Mississippi, as well as social services for communities in off-limits neighbourhoods. Finally, there's Chief Kevin, leader of the Flaming Arrows group. The film opens with these individuals, while they dance in traditional costumes and sing at the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, in a bid to claim back their usurped territory. It was the local Native Americans who welcomed them into their communities and protected slaves who escaped trafficking by slave owners across the Atlantic.
What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? offers moments of pure emotion, such as a scene in which a small night-time parade of bicycles illuminated with lights demonstrates the black neighbourhood’s unityagainst violence.It's an authentic and well-observed documentary that confirms Roberto Minervini's commitment to observing the pain caused by inequality in the New Continent, all while a president sits in the White House whose father, Fred Trump, participated in a Klu Klux Klan parade.
Produced by Okta Film and Pulpa Film with Rai Cinema, in co-production with Shellac Sud, the film is being distributed worldwide by The Match Factory. In Italy, the film's distribution will be handled by Cineteca di Bologna and Valmyn in collaboration with the MYmovies.it platform.
(Translated from Italian)
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