In 2010, a series of church fires plagued a 40-mile section of East Texas, beginning with the Little Hope Baptist Church outside of Canton. Originally suspected as an electrical fire, it was only connected to the subsequent incidents when a message was found etched into the restroom wall of a local business: “Little Hope Was Arson.”
Sharing the same name as the message itself, Theo Love’s documentary about the crimes and their impact on the residents of the small Texas locales in which they occurred is an engrossing piece of work. Charting the story from the inaugural incident to the arrest of two suspects, Jason Bourque and Daniel McAllister, Little Hope Was Arson covers plenty of ground, doling out new information in carefully measured doses.
But the film is most effective when it pauses to allow its subjects a bit of breathing room. Take, for example, a series of anecdotes from McAllister’s father, who recalls his attempted suicide in the same plain-spoken manner in which he discusses courting his would-be wife. Both stories are delivered with an easygoing southern drawl and a certain matter-of-factness, and it’s these sort of moments that truly humanize the residents of these small Texas towns.
With law enforcement interviews, archived news footage and a haunting soundtrack, Love paints a vivid picture of life in the Bible Belt, where blue-collar folks value their religion and their community. It would have been easy to portray some of his subjects as hillbilly redneck stereotypes, but Love refuses to cast anyone in an unfavorable light – even the arsonists themselves, who are interviewed toward the end of the film. Instead, he remains completely objective throughout the proceedings, opting instead to the let the audience form their own opinions. At a scant 71 minutes, Little Hope Was Arson is barely longer than an episode of Forensic Files, yet stands tall as one of the year’s most captivating documentaries.