LITTLEHOPE-master675Coming to theatres and to VOD today, Friday, November 21: LITTLE HOPE WAS ARSON

Theo Love’s exploration of a case of serial church arson debuted at Slamdance this year. It has also screened at Cucalorus, Austin, Heartland, Big Sky, and Lone Star, among others. In addition to theatrical engagements, the doc is available on VOD platforms including iTunes, Amazon, Google, and Vudu.

In 2010, various communities in East Texas were rocked by a series of church burnings, beginning with the Little Hope Baptist Church in Tyler TX. While state and federal authorities hunted for motive and clues, some concerned congregations in the deeply religious region staged armed night watches to defend their houses of worship from being next on the arsonists’ list. Love initially details these efforts in a straightforward manner, demonstrating how deeply ingrained religion is in East Texas, and what an affront these acts were to the communities through media coverage and interviews with various parishioners and pastors affected by the fires, as well as law enforcement representatives, such as Christy McAllister, a communications specialist with the Texas Department of Public Safety. The film deviates from conventional true crime coverage through Christy, who ends up being linked to the case’s first credible suspects – her younger brother Daniel, and his friend Jason. As soon as these two figures are introduced, Love breaks away from the arson narrative to sketch out their past, detailing how the two pious young men turned their backs on God when faced with personal heartbreak – Daniel blaming God for his mother’s death, Jason angry over a breakup – and, apparently, lashed out by laying waste to ten churches. While somewhat awkward, this rupture in storytelling is also intriguing, introducing additional family members who lend a texture to the setting, and seems to promise a moral quandary for Christy, which ultimately isn’t borne out, as she instead assists the authorities without hesitation. Too quickly, Love returns to a somewhat dry recitation of what happened next, how the boys were arrested, and the unconvincing excuses employed which lay blame on drugs. While the director captures a clear sense of the all-encompassing nature of religion in the Bible belt, with pretty much every subject weighing in on questions of forgiveness and redemption, the film ultimately is weakened by returning to a too-conventional approach.

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