Bisbee '17

When I was growing up in Bisbee, we called it "The Deportation." Even then, it was history, and like all history, there were two very different takes on the event. (1,186 men were deported, rousted out of their homes by approximately 2,000 rifle-toting "deputies," loaded into cattle cars and shipped to a railroad siding in New Mexico.) I have had Robert Houston's novel, "Bisbee '17" on my shelves since 1980, but I had never realized that the miners deported were primarily immigrants; this anti-immigrant activity was part of a national trend. In fact, Bisbee's population included immigrants from over 30 countries, e.g., the U.K., Serbia, Croatia, Mexico, Germany, Italy and even Texas! ...smile... This was true of most American blue-collar towns in those years.

This award-winning documentary (Best Documentary - Athens Film Festival) celebrates the activities of a group of involved citizens who realize that almost 100 years have passed since this infamous event (July, 1917) and it deserves a reenactment. After all, Tombstone (25 miles away) reenacts The Gunfight at OK Corral regularly! To the people in Bisbee, Tombstone's is "fake" history, Bisbee's will be real. And they must be ready by July, 2017.

Director/writer Robert Greene first shows us how reenactments develop and how the public responds to them (we love them), then we become acquainted with the town of Bisbee, Arizona and its history. It was once one of the richest mining towns in the U.S.; it is located seven miles north of Mexico; Warren Ballpark was built in 1909 and is the oldest ballpark in continuous use in the country; Bisbee is still sitting on a huge stockpile of copper ore.

I enjoyed seeing:
  • The Iron Man - a heroic statue of a copper miner at the lower end of Tombstone Canyon
  • The Copper Queen Hotel - an old treasure which boasts its own ghosts
  • The Queen Mine Tour - used for interior and exterior shots of mines
  • St. Elmo's Bar - a Brewery Gulch tradition
  • The Lyric Theater - now derelict and dusty
  • The Loma Linda Lodge - the home of Walter Douglas, an official for the mining corporation
  • The "New" High School - first occupied in 1957
  • The little amphitheater in Brewery Gulch near Central School
  • Lavender Pit and "the dump"
  • Evergreen Cemetery
  • Warren Ball Park - the place the strikers were loaded into cattle cars.
Mother Jones is referred to as a Wobblie (Industrial Workers of the World) organizer in an on-screen pamphlet, which says that by interrupting the production of vital war materials (copper being one of them), they can strengthen the anti-war effort (Corporate America was focused on a run-up to our involvement in WWI). Strong objections were raised when union members sang one of their songs to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic; over 50% of the miners went out on strike.

It was fun to watch the local citizens who were cast (one as his own grandfather!) and see each internalize the rationale which that person must have felt in order to take the stand he took in 1917.

This was like watching an enhanced home movie. It absolutely requires that you suspend disbelief (e.g., paved roads, a white stretch limo that carries an armed Sheriff Wheeler alongside the miners to the ballpark; electrical cords in homes), and remind yourself that this is a community effort that would never have come to pass without a lot of good people to make it happen.

This will enjoy a limited release, but I fully intend to add the DVD to my personal collection.
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No trailer, sorry
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