This documentary from Roberto Minervini is a slow-burning exploration of the socio-political framework of the American Deep South.
Directed by Roberto Minervini, this attention-grabbing documentary is another wake-up call to the harsh reality of racism. Shot over the summer of 2017, in the wake of a series of brutal killings of Black men, What You Gonna Do When The World’s On Fire? is a slow-burning exploration of the socio-political framework of the American Deep South. It sees Minervini follow the lives of Judy Hill, a middle-aged woman trying to desperately keep her business afloat, two teenage brothers Ronaldo and Titus, and members of the New Black Panther Party.
Clearly influenced by the cinema verité movement, with extended shots and close-ups, the main draw of Minervini’s arthouse approach is Diego Romero Suarez-Llanos’ stunning black and white cinematography. The lush monochrome, as well as the loosely intersecting stories, at time evokes the gorgeously composed vignettes of Charles Burnett’s 1978 film Killer of Sheep. However, the four strands at the heart of What You Gonna Do When The World’s On Fire? never quite form a fully immersive anthology film. There are some moving moments – one scene in particular, in which Ronaldo explains to his brother the difference between race and skin colour, is deeply poignant – but the director’s fly-on-the-wall approach is challenged when Minervini admits his personal involvement. The film then falls between two stools. By not establishing a critical distance from the film’s subjects, he assures the portraits and voices feel wonderfully intimate. Yet the elegiac tone gives the overall film a slightly choreographed feel, one that is moving but at times lacking in true insight. It remains a striking snapshot of African-American life in New Orleans, one which frustratingly doesn’t always delve into the socio-political questions the four stories offered up.
What You Gonna Do When The World’s On Fire? / Directed by Roberto Minervini (US, Italy, 2018), with Judy Hill, Ronaldo King, Titus Turner, Michael Nelson. Starts July 23.