In 2010, 10 churches in East Texas, also known as the buckle of the Bible Belt, within a radius of 40 miles were burned to the ground leading to a major investigation. Two young men, Jason Bourque and Daniel McAllister, were soon arrested and pleaded guilty to committing arson. Jason received two life sentences; Daniel received one. End of story, right? Not according to the doc Little Hope Was Arson. Director Theo Love grasps the importance of humanizing the documentary's subjects while treating them fairly without judging them. While the investigative side of the arson story feels compelling, what's much more intriguing is hearing the different pespectives of its subjects ranging from parishoners to Jason and Daniel's family members and Jason and Daniel themselves. The arsonists clearly had a rough upbringing with lots of emotional pain, and their lost their faith before turning to drugs and subsequentally burning down the churches. How much weight you put on the fact that their religious faith failed them depends on you. Some of the parishioners seem like they have questionable morals themselves when they admit that they wish that Jason and Daniel would be killed for their crimes. Others are able to do a lot of soul-searching and find forgiveness in their hearts, a task that's easier said than done. At a running time of just 1 hour and 14 minutes, Little Hope Was Arson is fair, balanced, humanizing and profoundly moving. It opens via The Orchard at Cinema Village.
The King and the Mockingbird
Stones in the Sun
The past catches up to three Haitian individuals in 1980s Brooklyn. A taxi driver (Atibon) reunites with his wife, Vita (Patricia Rhinvil), who's traumatized by her memories of getting raped back in Haiti; Yannick (Edwidge Danticat), a teacher/political activist arrives from Haiti to live with her sister, Micheline (Michele Marcelin), a real estate agent; Max (Carlo Mitton) unexpectedly travels from Haiti and shows up at the home of his estranged son, Gerald (Thierry Saintine), who's married to a white American woman, Rebecca (Diana Masi).
Writer/director Patricia Benoit interweaves the three stories of emotional struggle, jumping back and forth between each story while using flashbacks to show the characters' painful memories. . All three stories have enough dramatic conflict to work individually, but together they're just as powerful if not more. Kudos to Benoit for writing a screenplay rich in plot and character without resulting in a confused, convoluted mess. Sure, the film is indeed complex, but it's not complicated, and you'll find yourself caring about each character equally.
To be fair, some scenes feel a little bit clunky and lack finesse, but those are minor flaws given the films many strengths. Stones in the Sun wears its heart on its sleeve and has convincing, emotionally-charged performances that ground the film in humanism. At an ideal running time of 95 minutes, it's a genuinely heartfelt portrait of Haitian life in 1980s Brooklyn brimming with humanism and emotionally resonant performances.