By John Messer, E23 Reporter

“Bisbee ‘17” was one of the many documentary films showcased at the 2018 True/False Film Fest. The film takes a look at the Arizona town of Bisbee and its sordid past of worker disputes and deportation. The movie asks the viewer to examine the effects of the event on the town, on its people and on the present day world. Its director is Robert Greene, filmmaker-in-chief at the Murray Center for Documentary Journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Impressively, “Bisbee ‘17” played at Sundance. Reflexively, I’m surprised. It isn’t bad by any means, but perhaps the standards are skewed when it comes to independent films. However, no amount of difference in budget can outright excuse the plethora of structural problems plaguing the otherwise decent and interesting “Bisbee ‘17.”

I’ll preface by saying that “Bisbee” isn’t an outright bad movie. It does many things very well and offers at times compelling interviews and interesting information. Many of the people interviewed give compelling stories, and for brief moments, I found myself connecting with them in a real way.

The film retains structural issues that plague both immersion and clarity. All of the information is conveyed to the audience via interviews. No infographics, on-screen text or voice-of-authority narrator (think Morgan Freeman in “March of the Penguins”) exist in this film to transition and contextualize the information given via the interviews. It’s just interview after interview after esoteric establishing shot after interview. By the halfway mark, the audience is left confused and the information being presented becomes redundant as each interviewee repeats the same sentiments ad nauseam.

By the time the credits rolled, I was lost. The information presented was a nebulous cloud in my mind. It was altogether both dense and vapid. I had been given heartfelt pleas but nothing concrete to relate them back to. Key details were thrown out to make room for more and more interviewing without any of the context needed for those words to ring true.

“Bisbee ‘17” is a plea desperately lacking guidance. The program description in the True/False pamphlet says the story of Bisbee “strikes as relevant to the modern America.” This sentiment is rather hollow when the film itself fails to have a real mission statement. In the end, it was a loose collection of interviews and fun camera angles; this isn’t enough to make a good documentary.

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