By Mónica Delgado

American documentary filmmaker Robert Green mantains in Bisbeee’ 17 –which is competing in the official section of CPH:DOX- the line between non-fiction, docudrama and testimony, all trademarks of his previous works. But this time, he proposes a generational and political reading on an underground event in American history, the deportation of more than a thousand syndicalists in Bisbee, Arizona, in 1917, as a product of an arbitrary system of work in a mining community.

It’s inevitable to see Green’s film in the context of Trump’s era ghost, which in some way evokes the context of the World War One, which was the background for the work claims that destabilized Bisbee in the first decade of the last century. The events of 1917, recreated by Bisbee locals as a commemoration for the 100 years of the infamous historical event of segregation, allows us to recognize some latent elements and problems, even in this progressive spirit shelter of a town. The habitants of Bisbee play the roles of the protagonists of 1917 deportation, and narrate how they feel about this recreation, while they take conscience of the atrocities of the past.

Green chooses a Mexican habitant to lead this representation of a mining community in a strike, people that were taken in cattle trucks and abandoned in the middle of the desert, without food or money, as a lesson in social cleansing before a crisis that risked the revenue of mining productivity. Bisbee not only looks like the remains of a “company town”-those cities created around an economic activity like mining-  but also, this terrible episode has worked for the town as a tourist attraction, and does so still today. Fernando, the character with Mexican descent, becomes an actor that reproduces in a different narrative and representational layer, a migratory policy that is socially backed today, like in those barbaric times.

The ambivalence of watching and analyzing the past becomes an exercise that Green captures, and where the docudrama shows the frailty of the borders on what the people recreate and what they may be understanding about this somber event of history (an feat that isn’t as visceral as other documentaries, like The Act of Killing). The Bisbee of today is divided between the people that act as the “bad guys” and the “good guys”, and many times, the representation seems to burst with the veracity of the real. And that’s the greatest value of this work that found a complex way to tell a dark episode in America, with the participation of the community itself, which is ashamed of some foundations that still sustain the policies of that immense country.

Director: Robert Greene
Producers: Douglas Tirola, Susan Bedusa, Bennett Elliott
Cinematography: Jarred Alterman
Editing: Robert Greene
Music: Keegan DeWitt
USA, 2018