From the ashes of a small town crime, rises a subject of universal proportions.
Little Hope Was Arson
Theo Love has directed and edited an intense and surprisingly affective investigational documentary. And the only reason I say “surprising,” is because one wouldn’t think a subject like this would turn out so gripping just by reading it on paper. 10 churches are burnt in the so-called buckle of the Bible Belt in Texas. Does that, then, mean this type of documentary can only be engaging for religious people or Texans? While it may seem that way, Little Hope Was Arson rises above these understandable misgivings. This is where the premise on paper turns into an instructive slice of Americana in front of the lens, and where the potential in director (and, this can’t be stressed enough, editor) Theo Love crackles brightest through the flames.
This true life event takes place in East Texas, where there are as many churches as there are Starbucks stores in New York City. Down there, the pastime of choice is a devout relationship with God, and a zealous belief that everything happens as God wills it. A church, then, is much more than just a roof and four walls. It’s a sacred ground of worship, where communities come together on a daily basis, and join hands in united faith. Whether one believes in this on a personal level is irrelevant to the appreciation of Theo Love’s documentary; these people believe in it. More than believe, they stake their entire livelihoods around it, and Love’s interview subjects convey this message like second nature. All one needs to understand in order to connect is that these people, all trying to do good and live honest lives, have faith. It’s an important aspect to stress, because all emotional investment in Little Hope Was Arson is built upon this foundation. When 10 churches are burned within a 40 mile radius of each other, in a case of serial arson, the impact on the community, and the repercussions thereof, is weighty enough to make this documentary, at 74 minutes, one of the most efficient documentaries of the year. From the ashes of a small town crime, rises a subject of universal proportions.
A big part of the reason behind that are the interview subjects. As authentic as grilled grits, the people that populate this documentary—from various reverends and Baptists, to dispatchers, ATF team leaders, family members, and perpetrators—serve to paint an unscripted and unfiltered portrait of rural, unrefined, southern America. And the inexplicable charm of watching truth in demeanor, glance, and speech pattern is omnipresent. Of these, the standouts are Christy McAlister, a dispatcher who gets involved with the investigation in ways she never imagined, her father, Jason Bourque’s mother, and the ATF team lead on the case. Of course, these are the people that touched me the most through their authenticity. Love gives enough attention to a wide array of characters, and all end up resonating in one way or another.
The reason Little Hope Was Arson resonates to such a degree is only partly due to the story’s natural elements of shaken faith and rattled community members. Conversely, it all comes down to Theo Love. The way he structures the documentary into three distinct parts of a procedural—before, during, and after—and the editing prowess on display in certain scenes augment the documentary from a basic level to one of greatness. Building deductive lines of reasoning with an interplay of talking head interviews, balancing on morality’s dividing lines of right and wrong, and even musical choices (like the use of Merchant Orchestra’s “Virgin”), all show Love’s capabilities as a director and editor. His most triumphant moment comes as the documentary shifts into its third act, and the faces of those closest affected are spliced together in silence over an ominous instrumental. It’s at once a cinematic hammering, hitting the heads of the nails on all the heavy crosses this incident carved, and an exclamation point on Theo Love’s luminous prospects.
Now playing on VOD and select cities across the country (for full list, visit the film’s official website).