If it weren’t for a trip I took out to Tombstone, Arizona a couple of years ago, I would have never known what Bisbee is. As I was visiting Tombstone doing some research I remember seeing signs of Bisbee which is about 23 miles south of Tombstone, but I knew actually knew what the town was until now, thanks to Bisbee ‘17.
Bisbee ‘17 centers an old mining town on the Arizona and Mexico border which has a very dark past. In the early 1900’s the town was the setting for the Bisbee Deportation; where 1200 immigrant miners were taken by gunpoint to New Mexico. The townspeople recreate the deportation in a modern Bisbee 100 years later.
The documentary acts as an informational piece while also kind of a behind-the-scenes docuseries. I know it sounds confusing but let me explain…
“…seeing that it was a terrible working environment, the miners went on strike for better working conditions…”
Throughout the documentary, the town locals are interviewed and give their thoughts not only on the town itself but also the deportation that took place in 1917 which continues to haunt the town (both metaphorically and some say literally). During July of 1917, Bisbee was the place of a huge copper mine that was crucial for the war. Most of the miners were immigrant workers. Realizing how important of a mining camp it was and seeing that it was a terrible working environment, the miners went on strike for better working conditions. In doing so, the people of Bisbee and neighboring towns were to choose between the strikers and the mining companies. Two thousand people were deputized and deported the strikers.
This is where the docuseries part comes in to play. The story is told in six chapters. Each chapter talks about the deportation but also gives you insight into things such as Tombstone, what the citizens of Bisbee do in their spare time and you actually get to see the reenactment take place. As the locals are sharing their insight and thoughts about the deportation, they are also preparing to reenact the deportation. Out of the dozens of reenactors that are in the film, only maybe two have acted before and for the rest of them not being actors, the townspeople do a pretty good job. I could picture the reenactment scenes in a History Channel documentary. That’s how professional of a job the actors and director (Robert Greene) did. I really liked that Robert Greene chose to have the citizens of Bisbee play the roles of the strikers and deputies the reenactment. I feel that it really added something special to the documentary. But since it takes place in a modern Bisbee you see automobiles and telephone poles in the background of the reenactment scenes, which kind of throws the feel off a bit.
Even though deportation is a tough subject, especially because of what is going on in America, I still really enjoyed this documentary. I learned a lot about Bisbee, a town that doesn’t get talked about much or barely at all but deserves to have their history told. It was an overall great production and a great representation of Bisbee, Arizona.
Bisbee ‘17 (2018) Directed by Robert Greene. Starring Benjamin Joel Caron, James West, Fernando Sorrano, Mel Ray, Steve Ray, Richard Hodges, Aaron Gain, Chris Dietz, Mary Ellen Dunlap.
9 out of 10