Named after an ominous message carved on a bathroom wall, “Arson” puts the burning of 10 East Texas churches in stark context. It’s so much more than a detective story.
The film, available now in select theaters as well as via Video on Demand outlets, proceeds with clarity and care to show a community ravaged by fire. It’s a clear-eyed look at small town America, its spiritual ties and the heavy burden forgiveness entails.
“I knew that he had done something wrong, and he needed to pay for it,” says the sister of one of the two arsonists behind the church fires. Her story is heart-breaking, but it encapsulates how a kind-hearted soul deals with grief so close to home.
The film starts as a whodunit, but it’s clear the filmmaker’s purpose isn’t to X-ray how detectives cracked the case. What happens when a community fails its own members? Who should rightfully pick up the pieces?
“Forgiveness is a process,” one East Texan woman says, the words struggling to come out. “Little Hope Was Arson” reveals the layers in that process, captured with respect and authenticity.
Director Theo Love eschews any stylistic flourishes in favor of a “just the facts, ma’am,” approach. It’s the perfect way to address material most documentary filmmakers might treat with a veneer of superiority. Love’s camera gently maneuvers around the towns impacted by the fires, often from the ground up. It’s like we’re walking across the damaged lands at a slow, purposeful pace.
We even meet the perpetrators, young men struggling to come to terms with their actions and punishment. They’re not easy to like, nor are some citizens whose heart have more room for anger than forgiveness.
“Little Hope Was Arson” isn’t sugar-coating the crimes or the people involved. It puts its faith is the people hit hardest by the fires. Flawed and focused, crushed and full of hope, their collective humanity burns brighter than any blaze could.