The Appell Center for the Performing Arts and York College of Pennsylvania are proud to co-host this year's Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation's On Screen/In Person Program. The program tours six of the best new independent American films and their filmmakers through the region for public film screenings and live Q&A Opportunities. For a full list of this year's films, see here.
On Screen/In Person is a program of the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation made possible through the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts.
Grand Saline, Texas, a town east of Dallas, has a history of racism, a history the community doesn’t talk about. This shroud of secrecy ended when Charles Moore, an elderly white preacher, self-immolated to protest the town’s racism in 2014, shining a spotlight on the town’s dark past. “Man on Fire” untangles the pieces of this protest and questions the racism in Grand Saline today. Overall, “Man on Fire” encapsulates the racial clima- te in Grand Saline and chronicles Moore’s life and death, presenting Grand Saline and Moore as two pil- lars of the lm’s narrative: one a disjointed man seeking truth and communal repentance and the other a com- munity whose present is inextricably tied to their past.
“Man on Fire” was Joel Fendelman’s thesis lm for the com- pletion of his MFA program at the University of Texas in Austin. The lm went into production late May of 2016 and was completed late May of 2017. The crew took seven trips to the Van Zandt County area to film and compile interviews as well as a weekend of lming in Austin and one in Dallas. The recreations were lmed over three days in Austin, Texas. The documentary section was filmed on a Sony A7sII with Zeiss Contax photo lenses. The recreation portion was lmed using A Panasonic Varicam LT with Cooke Mini S4 lenses. The film was inspired by James Chase Sanchez’s dissertation “Preaching Behind the Fiery Pulpit: Rhetoric, Public Memory, and Self-Immolation.” and the Texas Monthly article “Man on Fire” by Michael Hall.
On one level, “Man on Fire” is an investigation into the human spirit. As Charles Moore said in his “suicide” letter, “Our human race is impressed most of all with innocent suffering, and is moved significantly by little else. It isn’t important that I be remembered, but that someone cared enough to give up everything for the sake of others.” These words hold truth for us as a society, yet I, and others, question why someone chose this extreme measure to get our attention. I believe everyone has a piece of Moore in them, whether they are aware of it or not. This yearning to do more, to help others, to sacrifice for the larger good, compels our humanity. So when someone like Moore comes around, atleast on the surface, we find ourselves awestruck, riddled with contradicting emotions. On one hand, we see the goodness in Moore, the love of humanity that compelled his actions; yet, on the other hand, the pain of his death overwhelms us too. This complexity was compounded with questions that others were asking in and around Grand Saline: Why did he do it? Is racism still in Grand Saline? Did he actually change anything? These questions were theseeds we planted, and through the process of filming, nurtured, in order to give some semblance of resolve for such an extreme act. Unfortunately (but also quite naturally), the answers to these questions are not so “black and white.” Thus, I hope this lm inspires others to also askthese questions and sparks a real conversation on Moore’s death and the reality of racism. Inevitably, some people will write off Moore as crazy, using facts such as “we got a black president” (a quote from the film) to claim that racism doesn't exist anymore. However, I believe the answers are more complicated than that.
“Man on Fire” uses Moore’s self-immolation as a vehicle to explore this small, mostly white town known for its racism. Moore’s death thus becomes the means to scratch beneath the surface of Grand Saline.The film captures the reality of small town Texas, illustrating Friday night football games, rodeos, homecoming parades, skating rinks, flea market sales, local businesses, and more. Nonetheless, the town of Grand Saline is just a microcosm for the rural south and inevitably America as a whole.