The tiny border town of Bisbee, Arizona is known for a few things. First, there’s that massive copper mine that was turned into a tourist attraction back in the seventies. Then, there’s that can-do spirit that won’t let said town — or mine — die, no matter how much times change. Oh, and there’s also the hundred-year-old ethnic cleansing that everyone is eager to forget, including those concerned that the atrocity might reflect badly on that damn mine, which kickstarted the event a century ago.
It’s a ripe setting for a documentary, but it’s a particularly smart one for a filmmaker like Robert Greene, who has made it his literal business to approach the medium by melding the past and present in increasingly unique ways. Greene puts an added twist on that concept, as the filmmaker also routinely blends together fact and fiction to tell stories, often asking real-life subjects to participate in documentaries about their experiences.
As IndieWire’s David Ehrlich wrote out of Sundance, Greene’s newest film, “Bisbee ’17,” uses those techniques to become an “American riff on ‘The Act of Killing.'” It’s a fitting comparison.
In “Bisbee ’17,” Greene lands in the tiny town in advance of the upcoming centennial of the “Bisbee Deportation,” when nearly 1,500 striking miners (most of them Eastern European and Mexican immigrants) were rounded up by their own friends and neighbors, herded onto cattle cars, and abandoned in the middle of nowhere. The heinous act has haunted the town in the decades since, and Greene’s film forces the residents of Bisbee to grapple with it in timely, haunting terms.
As Ehrlich wrote, “It’s unclear what activities (if any) the Bisbee residents planned for the centennial prior to Greene’s arrival, but it seems obvious that none of this spectacle would have been possible if not for the cameras. Nothing shakes things up quite like the presence of a film crew, the promise of a movie unstitching the fabric of reality; it’s like finding a hole in the sky. It’s a good thing that Greene knows what he’s doing, and that his work is never destructive, because there’s something vaguely dangerous about the power he seems to wield over these people.”
Check out IndieWire’s exclusive trailer and poster for “Bisbee ’17” below or on our YouTube page. The film will next screen at BAMcinemaFest (co-presented by Rooftop Films) on Friday, June 29. It will open on September 5 at NYC’s own Film Forum, before rolling out nationally.