What You Gonna Do When the World's On Fire? (4 stars)

What You Gonna Do When the World's On Fire?

Stirring documentary from Roberto Minervini capturing an African-American community during the stormy summer of 2017

Assembled from about 150-hours of material filmed in 2017, Roberto Minervini's crisply shot black-and-white documentary opens like a horror film, with two young black boys making their way through a New Orleans fun house. Left to fend for themselves as they head deeper into dangerous territory, their fear is palpable. The boys are Ronaldo King and Titus Turner, two half-brothers whose upbringing is indelibly marked by an epidemic of police brutality, racism, political corruption and the multiple killings of black men in the area where they reside, including a particularly vicious attack by the KKK.

Italian filmmaker Minervini has been documenting life in the American margins since 2011, through dramatic interpretations as well as non-fiction. His previous Louisiana-set documentary, The Other Side, was a confrontational and uneasy portrait of a white community ravaged by drugs, their circumstances a breeding ground for racism.

As a counter to that, Minervini immerses himself in an African-American community whose determination in the face of adversity is deeply stirring. He weaves together three threads, closely following the lives of Judy Hill – a bar owner struggling with the effects of gentrification, the local chapter of the New Black Panthers – who hand out food to the homeless as well as vehemently standing up for their rights as citizens, and the aforementioned siblings. He also peppers enjoyable flavour into this enticing gumbo, with clips of Chief Kevin Goodman and his tribe preparing for Mardi Gras.

The title asks a pertinent and provocative question, which the film answers with intimate footage that acts as compelling testament to the power of the human spirit. It combines the smarts and empathy of David Simon's Treme and Jonathan Demme's I'm Carolyn Parker, and pays poignant tribute to the culture, music and tradition of New Orleans as much as its subjects.

Selected release from Fri 18 Oct.

What You Gonna Do When the World's on Fire?

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • Italy / US / France
  • 2h 3min
  • Directed by: Roberto Minervini
  • Cast: Kevin Goodman, Dorothy Hill, Judy Hill
  • UK release: 15 October 2018

A documentary about New Orleans, looking at lives in an African-American community in the summer of 2017: Judy, a bar owner struggling with the effects of gentrification; the local chapter of the New Black Panthers; and half-brothers Ronaldo King and Titus Turner. A poignant tribute to the culture, music and tradition of…

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