My name is Joel Fendelman, and I’m an independent filmmaker who strives to embrace socially conscious stories that deal with religion, social class, and race. My goal as a filmmaker is to communicate the underlying connections between us all.
Grand Saline, Texas, a town east of Dallas, has a history of racism that the community doesn’t talk about. This shroud of secrecy ended when Charles Moore, an elderly white minister, 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.
When I first heard about this story, I was struck by the extremity of the act but also humbled by Charles’ courage. At the time, I was questioning what I was doing to help bring about social justice in the world and yet here is this remarkable man who attempted to self-immolate for the greater good. It was a real gut punch, but it also motivated me to want to learn more about Charles and this town. It made me question if his act changed anything.
As with all my films, Man on Fire was a personal journey of discovery and healing. I realized how ignorant I was about racism in today’s society and racist thoughts in my personal life. I had this idea of racism being explicit like beatings and segregation from the 1960s, but I came to realize that, while racist violence still happens, there is another dimension of racism today that is more implicit. I was fortunate to have an expert on this subject–my producing partner Dr. James Chase Sanchez–to help guide me and the film. We interviewed over 50 people, mostly from the rural south who, let’s say, still have some more growth to do. But I would also say that they have given all of us who watch the film a gift. Yes, we can watch them and easily point our fingers, or we can use it as an opportunity to point the finger back at us and ask, “What part of Grand Saline is still in me?”
I also have a narrative feature film within the New Day Films called David, about a 10 yr old Muslim boy living in Brooklyn and his unexpected friendship with orthodox Jewish boys who mistake him for being Jewish. It is a a coming of age film that explores questions of identity and what really separates us as humans.