Roberto Minervini’s “What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?” is a documentary portrait of working-class African-Americans in New Orleans mired in struggles for social justice and preservation of their cultural identity. Shot in a high contrast black-and-white, in-your-face style, the film forces the audience to contend with anger and fear. Minervini wants that confrontation to facilitate a much-needed discussion on race, racism, and privilege in America.
“I have captured sections of present-day America where there’s almost this nostalgia for the kind of overt hatred and intolerance that once thrived, and didn’t just emerge with the election of Donald Trump,” said Minervini.
Born in the tiny town of Fermo, Italy off the Adriatic Coast, he moved to New York City in 2000 as an IT consultant for a client based in the World Trade Center. The next year, he received 18 months’ salary from the state as a 9/11 victim, which he used to earn an MA in Media Studies at the New School. He later moved to Houston, which led to a fascination with the American South and what he calls a “paralyzing fear” of the region’s rigid conservative politics, cultural tradition, adherence to religious doctrine, and definitions of masculinity. He’s made five features, all centered on rural lives in Texas and Louisiana, but this is the first dedicated to the African American experience.