June 23, 2014: A 79-year-old white Methodist minister named Charles Moore drove to an empty parking lot in his old hometown of Grand Saline, Texas, and set himself on fire. He left a note on his car’s windshield explaining that this act was his final protest against the virulent racism of the community and his country at large. Man on Fire goes back to Grand Saline – population 3,266 – to try to uncover the truth about the town’s ugly past and the fervor for God and justice that drove Moore to his shocking final act.
This horrifying moment intertwines with a town's history that almost no one seems to want to talk about.
Grand Saline, home to one of Morton’s largest salt mines, has always had a reputation as a town unhospitable to African Americans. Oral history has it that there were signs at each end of the town warning African Americans to leave before sunset, and stories of lynchings and beheadings are well-known. Although the town fathers claim the stories are just rumors, African Americans from neighboring towns still avoid passing through. The shroud of secrecy ended when Charles Moore self-immolated and the media took note.
The film raises the specter of mystery around Reverend Moore’s motives and why his neighbors are so reluctant to face the implications of his grisly act.
Joel Fendelman (director/producer) has written, produced, and directed a number of award-winning narrative and documentary films. His achievements include winning the IDA Documentary Award for Man on Fire, premiering his short film Game Night at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016, and winning numerous awards for his first and second narrative feature films, Remittance and David, including Best Screenplay at the Brooklyn Film Festival in 2016 and the prestigious Ecumenical Prize at the Montreal World Film Festival in 2011. He holds a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Texas, Austin. He currently resides in New York City.
James Chase Sanchez (producer) is an Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at Middlebury College. His research interests are in cultural and racial rhetorics, public memory, and writing assessment, and his research has appeared or is forthcoming in College Composition and Communication, Pedagogy, Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric, Present Tense, and Writing Program Administration. Sanchez has long been fascinated with the stories of his hometown, Grand Saline, TX, and will be completing an academic manuscript about it in the next couple of years.