Before We Vanish by Daniel Gorman Film

Bisbee ’17 | Robert Greene

September 5, 2018

Robert Greene (Actress, Kate Plays Christine) continues his string of remarkable documentaries with Bisbee ’17, an account of the town of Bisbee, Arizona coming to terms with a 100 year-old trauma. In 1917, the town sheriff oversaw the forced deportation of thousands of copper miners who were trying to organize a workers’ union. Divided into six chapters, Bisbee ’17 starts as a kind of variation on Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke’s 24 City: Testimonials are given on the town’s history and there are conflicting opinions on how necessary the forced deportation was. As Greene’s film progresses, the focus narrows to Bisbee’s preparations for an official reenactment of the deportation, with townspeople playing versions of their historical ancestors — an event suspended somewhere between celebration and a kind of moral reckoning.

Greene intersperses reenactment sequences with voiceovers from the townspeople/actors, who comment on the action as it unfolds in a bold, heightened synthesis of authenticity and deliberate artifice. It’s impossible to watch Bisbee ’17 and not think about our current political landscape: The town of Bisbee itself is a small blue dot in the ocean of red that is Arizona. Perhaps in 100 years, the country as a whole will be willing to wrestle with what’s happening at our borders right now as well.

Published as part of BAMcinemaFest 2018 | Dispatch 1.