AFF Interview: Theo Love, 'Little Hope Was Arson'
Making its Texas premiere at this week's Austin Film Festival is the debut documentary from Theo Love, Little Hope Was Arson. Love's film takes a close look at the string of fires set at East Texas churches a few years ago, talking to some of the communities affected by the arsons as well as the perpetrators of the destruction.
I conducted an interview with the director via email in the midst of his preparation for the festival.
Slackerwood: What drew you to the subject matter of the 2010 church fires in East Texas? Do you have ties to Texas?
Theo Love: I first learned about the story through an article in a Texas Monthly magazine two years after the events took place. I don't think I read more than two paragraphs before I knew that I had to make this into a movie.
I grew up as the son of missionaries in Southeast Asia, so naturally, I had a very religious upbringing but instead of going to a church building every Sunday, we would meet in houses or outside. My spirituality had no ties to buildings whatsoever. When I moved to California after high school, I got a job working as a janitor at a mega-church. As I cleaned this huge sanctuary in the middle of the night, I couldn't help but question the priorities of western Christian culture.
When I heard about the arsons, of course I was saddened by the violent criminal acts, but I was quick to find the redemption in the lessons to be learned, so I packed my bags and headed to Texas!
How long did you spend on this project? What period of time does Little Hope Was Arson encompass?
Love: I have been working on Little Hope Was Arson for a little under two years. While this is a relatively short amount of time for documentary production, I feel like this story has been with me for ages!
We decided early on that we wanted to tell the story from the perspective of the church communities of East Texas. We wanted the audience to step into their world and experience the crimes as if they were happening here and now. Because we were only 2-3 years past the events, all the memories and emotions were very fresh in people's minds.
How did you go about selecting the interview subjects? Were the interviews easy to arrange?
Love: I knew there were three groups of people that I needed in the film: the churches, the investigators, and the arsonists. About half of the churches were willing to talk with me, but the others simply ignored my requests.
The investigators in charge of the case are local celebrities and some even hold public office, so it wasn't difficult to convince them to tell their side of the story. The arsonists were, by far, the hardest interviews to schedule.
Due to a lot of red tape and a general distrust of indie filmmakers, we made the entire film and had already started submitting to film festivals before the State of Texas allowed us to turn the cameras on the arsonists themselves. Thankfully, in the end all parties are represented in the film.
Is this your first time at Austin Film Festival? What are you most looking forward to at the fest?
Love: Yes! This is actually my first film and first experience traveling to a festival, period! I am so excited to be in the same lineup with filmmakers that I have been studying and admiring for years. As much as I am looking forward to hearing from all of the amazing panels and watching the incredible films, I have to selfishly say that I am most excited to hear how native Texans respond to our film, Little Hope Was Arson.