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Jason Osder on Purposefully Degrading Archival Footage for ‘Let the Fire Burn’

Filmmaker Jason Osder spent ten years making his documentary Let the Fire Burn, which tells the story of a 1985 clash between the Philadelphia Police Department and the radical black liberation group MOVE. The film is composed entirely of archival footage, an idea that Osder credits to his editor, Nels Bangerter.

“[Bangerter] looked at everything together and he helped me see both the limitations of the interviews, and more importantly, the potential to do something really special with the hearings,” Osder tells Realscreen. “I give full credit to him, but I also think that is the job of the editor: to see it early and see it new. I’d like to see editors get more credit – a good documentary is synonymous with a well-edited documentary.”

Because the archival footage came on a variety of material like VHS and VTR, and some of that was quite degraded, Osder decided to take the unusual approach of down-rezzing some of the higher-quality material to match. “Some of the footage is quite distressed and quite low resolution. What we realized was that you’re going to notice that quite early on, but if we never cut to the high-def interview, you’re never going to be reminded – you’ll get used to it,” Osder explains. “One of the things we did was, anywhere there’s a dip to black or there’s a card over black, was choose to have no ‘HD black’ in the film. We actually had a VHS tape that had a bunch of black leader on it – like, snowy VHS – and the clip in the edit room was called ‘VHS black.’ We went in and we plugged in that underneath any time it dipped to black, so you never get a pure, clean black.”

Read the full story here.