Filmmakers tell story of Bisbee Deportation on 100th anniversary

(Source: Tucson News Now)
(Source: Tucson News Now)
Updated: Jul. 16, 2017 at 5:58 PM MST
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Source: KOLD
Source: KOLD

BISBEE, AZ (Tucson News Now) - About 100 extras, mostly Bisbee residents, were at Warren Ballpark on Sunday to portray the people rounded up and gathered at that same Warren Ballpark during the 1917 Great Deportation, 100 years ago.

It's not too difficult to get the historic shots you need, when not much has changed. Most of Bisbee has been preserved, which was a huge benefit to the documentary filmmakers who are in town.

The 4th Row Films production crew spent Sunday, July 12, shooting some of the final reenactment shots for their upcoming documentary film, Bisbee '17. 

Bisbee '17 is directed by Sundance Film Festival Award-Winning Director Robert Greene. The producers said Greene's mother-in-law has a home in Bisbee, which is how Greene first became interested in telling the deportation story.

According to the University of Arizona University Libraries, The Bisbee Deportation occurred on July 12, 1917. On that day, roughly 1,200 men were herded into boxcars by an armed vigilante force and were abandoned across the New Mexico border, the website said. It all started around June 27, 1917, when roughly half of the Bisbee copper mine work force went on strike.

"It never went away," said Laurie McKenna, talking about the harsh memories that remain in the town. McKenna is the Executive Director of the Central School Project, and has been working on telling the miner strike story through historic artwork.

For 100 years, McKenna said the town of Bisbee has been divided. 

"There are ancestors, to this day in Bisbee, that most commonly - the ones that are still here - were attached to the deputies that rounded people up. It wasn't something that was talked about too much because it was contentious," she said.

McKenna, a Bisbee resident, is playing a prominent role in the reenactment and the documentary film.

According to 4th Row Films President Douglas Tirola, one of the producers of Bisbee '17, their crew has spent about six weeks straight in southern Arizona, interviewing writers and artists, as well as Bisbee's police and fire chiefs.

"Almost everybody seems to know about the deportation, and everybody has an opinion about it," Tirola said.

His team is getting multiple sides to the deportation story, even though it's not what they expected.

"Our assumption was that everybody would be on the side of the of the workers, because the story is just so devastating," Tirola said. "You take the people from their families - this is pre-cell phone. How are you getting from the middle of New Mexico back here in 1917, when you're taken right out of work and right out of your home? It's not like you're packing to go. But it's a more complex issue than that. I think we found people that have passionate arguments on both sides of the historical event."

He's also getting a local perspective from crew members with ties to Bisbee. The production designer, Ed Briggs, has worked for decades in New York City, but now calls Bisbee home for much of the year.

"So I just called him up and I said, 'hey. When are you doing the project? I might be in Bisbee,'" Briggs explained.

He knows that the stories of the past, like this, can resonate in the present.

"But I think you could see where this would totally tie in with current events," Briggs said. "Bisbee '17 is as much about 1917 as it is 2017. And that's the basis of the film as well, because they're telling modern stories that tie in with this event."

Producers of the film told Tucson News Now that Bisbee' 17 is expected to be released in early 2018.

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