POV: Bisbee ‘17
Airs Monday, July 15, 2019 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV + Thursday, July 18 at 11 a.m. on KPBS 2
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
Credit: Courtesy of Jarred Alterman/4th Row Films
—A Town Commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Deportation of 1,200 Immigrant Miners—
Bisbee, Arizona, was one of the largest copper mining centers in America until it became a virtual ghost town in 1975 when its two massive mines were closed.
Forty years later, Bisbee is a community of eccentrics, immigrants, hippies, bikers and drifters, attempting to reckon with a dark and violent history of a forgotten event known as the Bisbee Deportation.
POV "Bisbee '17" documents locals as they play characters and stage dramatic scenes from the controversial story, culminating in a large scale recreation of the deportation itself on the exact day of its 100th anniversary.
A town perpetually on the brink, Bisbee is near the border of Mexico and home to a politically leftist history.
Whereas nearby Tombstone is the birthplace of the anti-immigrant Minutemen, Bisbee is more inclusive, even if many residents of the poorer surrounding communities consider the touristy “Old Bisbee” too gentrified.
It’s a desert Twin Peaks, full of strange stories and peculiar mythologies. The two massive holes in the earth and semi-toxic manmade mountain serve as constant reminders of the town’s violent mining past.
On July 12, 1917, nearly 2,000 striking miners, many of whom were immigrants who had aligned with the radical IWW union, were violently extracted from their homes by a white-arm-banded force organized by the sheriff and the large mining corporations, including Phelps Dodge.
The U.S. had just entered World War I, and rumors were swirling that these strikers were conspiring with the Germans and Mexican revolutionaries to blow up buildings in town and hamper the war effort.
Echoing other moments in our nation’s history, fear and paranoia were used to motivate and organize a group of strikebreakers.
The miners were rounded up, led by gunpoint to the Warren baseball field, forced onto cattle cars and dropped in the middle of the barren New Mexican desert. They were left at an Army camp and never allowed to return to town. Many were lost to history.
This malicious and largely forgotten act hastened the end of unions in Arizona, which today is a right-to-work state.
One hundred years later, unspoken tensions hang in a town where many residents are descendants of miners and just as many are relatives of the company owners.
As historian and Bisbee native Charles Bethea says, “The Deportation caused a wound that has never healed.”
As the centennial anniversary of the deportation nears, the town begins to reckon with this still-divisive past by staging western or musical-style recreations in many of the places where the events in the story actually took place.
Bisbee residents bring their own personal histories to the fore:
- Sue Ray has long wanted to tell the story of her grandfather deporting his own brother, which lead to them never speaking again.
- Elsewhere in town, Annie disagrees strongly with her father (a man who became president of the mining company and sees the deportation as justifiable and even patriotic).
- Laurie is a local artist playing out her fantasies onscreen as a male IWW striker.
- Mike is the keeper of the ballfield with complex views on who must choose which side to take.
- Meanwhile, Fernando, a 23-year-old gay Mexican-American whose mother was deported and jailed for immigration and drug charges, is experiencing a political awakening because he’s chosen to play the role of a Mexican miner.
These stories, told with a mix of documentary and dramatization, build up to a large-scale attempt to recreate the deportation itself.
What happens when all these personal stories and perspectives converge?
The challenges of wrangling and narrativizing this moment highlight the multilayered and often-conflicting way history gets retold and myths get made.
Who gets to tell the stories of the past? Who is responsible when the ghosts return?
Official Selection, 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
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Producers: Robert Greene, Douglas Tirola, Susan Bedusa, Bennett Elliott. Director/ Editor: Robert Greene. Original Music: Lawrence Everson. Executive Producers for POV: Justine Nagan and Chris White.
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