What you gonna do when the world’s on fire?

What you Gonna do When the World’s on Fire? paints a portrait of an African American community in Louisiana in the aftermath of a police shooting. 

In 2016, unarmed 37-year-old African-American Alton Sterling was shot and killed by Baton Rouge police officers.

His death sparked public outrage and resulted in mass protests, both in his home town and across the US, and added yet another name to the Black Lives Matter campaign.

Shot in black and white, this documentary is a meditation on the state of race in America, providing an intimate look at the lives of those who struggle for justice, dignity, and survival in a country which does not appear to be on their side.

What you Gonna do When the World’s on Fire? screened in competition at this year’s Venice International Film Festival, and will be competing in London at the BFI London Film Festival for the prestigious Best Documentary award.

Director Robert Minervini said: “My hope is that this film can facilitate a much-needed discussion on race and the current plight of African Americans who, now more than ever, are witnessing the intensification of hate crimes and discriminatory policies. Because, like Judy said to me: ‘After Katrina we lost it all, but if you care about us, we still have a lot left to give.’”

During the main shoot in 2017, Minervini concentrated all of his efforts on working with four main characters/contexts: Judy and her large family, two young brothers named Ronaldo and Titus, Chief Kevin of the Mardi Gras Indians, and the Black Panthers.

“Judy tries to keep her family afloat while dealing with the looming shutdown of her bar business and her 87 year-old mother’s eviction, both results of the ruthless gentrification of traditionally black neighbourhoods,” adds Minervini. “Ronaldo and Titus try to make sense of their mother’s teachings, while waiting for the release of Ronaldo’s incarcerated father. The revolutionary Black Panthers conduct investigations to uncover the truth behind racially-motivated killings in Louisiana and Mississippi and stage demonstrations to protest police brutality.”

“I have told stories of the American South which were unfolding before my eyes in unexpected ways. I have documented clusters of today’s America where the seeds of anti-institutional, reactionary anger (which gifted the country with Donald Trump as the new president) were already planted, but no one cared to notice. This time, I intended to dig even deeper into the roots of social inequality in America, by focusing on the condition of African Americans.”

Minervi started a long journey, which began in August 2015, when he conceived the initial project of WHAT YOU GONNA DO WHEN THE WORLD’S ON FIRE? From November 2016 he pre-shot for a few weeks and looked at several characters. “Meanwhile, we were able to establish deep bonds with several people, and gained access to neighbourhoods and communities that are off-limits to most,” recalls Minervi.

“I soon realised that most of the people I met felt strongly about two dramatic events in Louisiana’s recent history: Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the killing of Alton Sterling in 2016. Both events are the result of institutional negligence, of a socioeconomic divide between rich and poor, and of strong endemic racism. Moved by anger and fear, people wanted to get a chance to tell their stories out loud.”

Director: Roberto Minervini; Cast: Judy Hill, Dorothy Hill, Michael Nelson, Ronaldo King, Titus Turner, Ashley King, Kevin Goodman, The New Black Panthers Party for Self Defense; Strand: Documentary Competition; Running time: 123 mins.

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