Man on Fire
Man on Fire
One town's history, one preacher's sacrifice.


Whether religious or not, each successive generation inherits a history that must be reckoned with. Here is a film that hopefully will encourage you to find a language for this reckoning, and to speak it.
— Elizabeth Prouty, Co-Captain of the Slamdance Documentary Features Program
Joel’s disquieting film explores the length one White preacher was willing to go to remind us of our racist history. Like the Buddhist monks whose suicide by fire raised awareness for their cause, some see his act of self-immolation as a radical protest, others believe it’s a sign of mental illness, some feel it’s the ultimate sacrifice. At a time when we’re grappling to define a collective history, this story illustrates how difficult it is to find common language, let alone common ground.
— Lois Vossen, Independent Lens Executive Producer


Grand Saline, Texas, a town east of Dallas, has a history of racism, a history the community doesn’t talk about.

This shroud of secrecy ended when Charles Moore, an elderly white preacher, self-immolated to protest the town's racism in 2014, shining a spotlight on the town’s dark past.

“Man on Fire” untangles the pieces of this protest and questions the racism in Grand Saline today.



On one level, “Man on Fire” is an investigation into the human spirit. As Charles Moore said in his “suicide” letter, “Our human race is impressed most of all with innocent suffering, and is moved significantly by little else. It isn’t important that I be remembered, but that someone cared enough to give up everything for the sake of others.” These words hold truth for us as a society, yet I, and others, question why someone chose this extreme measure to get our attention. I believe everyone has a piece of Moore in them, whether they are aware of it or not. This yearning to do more, to help others, to sacrifice for the larger good, compels our humanity. So when someone like Moore comes around, at least on the surface, we find ourselves awestruck, riddled with contradicting emotions. On one hand, we see the goodness in Moore, the love of humanity that compelled his actions; yet, on the other hand, the pain of his death overwhelms us too. This complexity was compounded with questions that others were asking in and around Grand Saline: Why did he do it? Is racism still in Grand Saline? Did he actually change anything? These questions were the seeds we planted, and through the process of filming, nurtured, in order to give some semblance of resolve for such an extreme act. Unfortunately (but also quite naturally), the answers to these questions are not so “black and white.” Thus, I hope this film inspires others to also ask these questions and sparks a real conversation on Moore’s death and the reality of racism. Inevitably, some people will write off Moore as crazy, using facts such as “we got a black president” (a quote from the film) to claim that racism doesn‘t exist anymore. However, I believe the answers are more complicated than that. “Man on Fire” uses Moore’s self-immolation as a vehicle to explore this small, mostly white town known for its racism. Moore’s death thus becomes the means to scratch beneath the surface of Grand Saline. The film captures the reality of small town Texas, illustrating Friday night football games, rodeos, homecoming parades, skating rinks, flea market sales, local businesses, and more. Nonetheless, the town of Grand Saline is just a microcosm for the rural south and inevitably America as a whole.

- Joel Fendelman

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We hosted a screening of “Man on Fire” for our Honors Program, and it was a resounding success. The film engaged our students on issues of race, sacrifice, and justice in a serious and introspective way. Joel Fendelman and James Chase Sanchez made excellent guests and teachers as they answered our students’ questions. Hopefully we will be able to host them again in a few years.
— Paul D. Streufert, PhD, Executive Director of the University of Texas at Tyler Honors Program

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Director, Producer, Editor, Cinematographer

Currently residing in New York City, Joel Fendelman 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. Joel strives to embrace socially conscious stories that deal with religion, social class, minorities and communicates the underlying connection between us all. He holds a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Texas, Austin.


James Chase Sanchez



James Chase Sanchez 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 his hometown in the next couple of years.


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R  e  v  i  e  w  s

This is an illuminating, thought-provoking tale that illustrates one of the many tragic consequences of America’s failure to fully come to terms with, and to truly confront, the racism of its past, present, and its foreseeable future.
— Christopher Bourne, screenanarchy

[...] the importance of this film is not its ability to vindicate and heroize Americans. Rather, its highest quality is its unabashed truthfulness. As one of the many interviewees puts it, ‘The easier thing to do is try to move past it, instead of sitting with it.’
— Connor Lockie, SLUG Magazine

Man on Fire haunts me. As any truly great film it has broken my defenses and forced me to ponder what it means. [...] This film demands to be seen, to be shared and discussed.
— Steve Kopian, unseenfilms

Whether Moore’s act will achieve its desired impact remains to be seen, but the mere existence of this excellent film furthers his message and hope for healing and racial reconciliation.
— Andrew Neel, Reel Spirituality

Man on Fire doesn’t posit any easy answers.... It is content to let us wrestle [...] and if you watch the film, you will—long after the film concludes.
— Ryan Parker, Pop Theology

a kaleidoscopic exploration of Grand Saline
— Nathanael Hood

Man on Fire asks us to ask ourselves some very hard questions, demanding not answers but at the very least a discussion that Americans, particularly white Americans, seem so reluctant to have.
— Chris McGuinness, New Times Slo

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