Bisbee ’17 doesn’t entirely work because of pacing issues, but watching a small town come to terms with its own dark past is fascinating.
Director: Robert Greene
Summary: It’s 2017 in Bisbee, Arizona, an old copper-mining town just miles from the Mexican border. The town’s close-knit community prepares to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Bisbee’s darkest hour: the infamous Bisbee Deportation of 1917, during which 1,200 striking miners were violently taken from their homes, banished to the middle of the desert, and left to die.
There are times when a group of people must collectively confront something from their past that makes everyone feel uncomfortable. The United States as a whole needed to do that with the internment camps during World War I and the fact that we turned away Jewish refugees in the the early days of World War II. Sometimes the things are a little smaller — but no less dark — as the town of Bisbee, Arizona must face.
Bisbee ’17 follows the town as they get ready for the 100 year anniversary of the deportation. The townspeople begin to come to terms with the fact that the reason they don’t talk about this is because the people who could tell the story wanted to forget it. We also see them realize that while there may not have been a right way to handle the situation, there was a very wrong way.
It all comes to a head at the end of the documentary as they stage a reenactment of the deportation. It’s a tense moment for everyone involved, but it takes a long time to get there. The documentary is separated into six chapters that feels like it belongs more on a platform like YouTube than a theater. The entire production feels like it drags on and on, and it might have been improved with a break in between or the ability to watch it at your own pace. As it is, the ending works, but it’s a struggle to get there no matter how interesting you find the story.
Bisbee ’17 is a compelling story told in a format that doesn’t quite work. While the ending is killer and it’s interesting to see a small town essentially, as they say, have a giant group therapy session, the slog to get there is only barely worth it.
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