Robert Greene's daring film unpacks a tragic 1917 mining strike. Info
An unprecedented, radical fusion of the documentary, musical, and Western genres by writer and director Robert Greene (Kate Plays Christine), the new Bisbee '17 excavates a long-buried and haunting episode in the history of an eccentric old Arizona mining town just miles away from the Mexican border and Tombstone, site of the famous O.K. Corral gunfight. In the summer of 1917, amid a raging world war that depended heavily on copper for munitions, immigrant mine workers at the Queen of the Copper Camps in Bisbee organized a strike, demanding higher wages, safer working conditions, and an end to discrimination. On July 12, a deputized posse rounded up more than 1,200 miners at gunpoint and shipped them on boxcars to the New Mexico desert.
Greene's film observes several inhabitants of this close-knit, yet still divided, community as they prepare to stage a reenactment of the event, known as the Bisbee Deportation, on its centennial. He weaves in dramatized fictional scenes before the day itself and candid interviews with a motley crew of townsfolk who range from hippie artists to defensive company men. A cogent, multi-layered, and visually striking examination of the complex relationship between history and performance, Bisbee '17 incorporates perspectives from both sides of the controversial issue, while skillfully connecting the reality of a past conflict to our current charged political climate. The film's fluid, expressive cinematography and authentic production design bring the incident to vivid life, as Greene seems to suggest that 1917 was really not that long ago.
After this screening, the film's historical advisor, Katherine Benton-Cohen, a UW-Madison PhD alum, will join Spotlight Cinema series curator Mike King for a special Q&A. —Jason Fuhrman