Friday, June 16, 2017

AFI Docs 2017 - No Man's Land

I must admit I was a little hesitant to see No Man's Land. The film is about the armed standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, led by the Bundy brothers. Part of me didn't want to give these radicals any more attention than they had already gotten. But I went and saw it anyway, and I'm so very glad I did.

Documentarians tend to be a relatively liberal bunch, myself included, so I was mostly expecting to be angry. At a panel about documentary in service of civil discourse this morning, one of the panelists said, "the best thing I can hear at one of our community events is 'I never thought of it that way before,'" and that's exactly the reaction I had to this film. And part of what attracted me to the documentary field in general was the ability of documentary to help people see others' perspectives, but I still hadn't really ever seen a documentary about conservatives that made me see their side of things before. For example, I loved the film Jesus Camp, but I left it mainly feeling like those people were completely out of touch with reality.

This film was different. In our incredibly polarized society right now, this film showed all sides of the argument equally and fairly. Their access was amazing. And what struck me the most were the number of things I had in common with the militiamen. For example, some of the issues that come up that some of the characters oppose are things like the Patriot Act and the militarization of the police force, things every liberal I know is against. These men feel their way of living is being taken away - a feeling most people I know in the cities share, albeit in different ways. And while I don't think fear of change is productive, most Americans agree that things are changing primarily for the worse: there aren't enough jobs, wages suck, we're running out of options, and people are angry. This is a feeling it seems most Americans share right now.

When it comes down to it, these people want what is best for their families. They want to do more than survive, they want to thrive. And even survival feels increasingly difficult for many Americans right now. That feeling that the government isn't listening to the people anymore is something most Americans can relate to and the desire for drastic action to get them pay attention rumbles within many of us. What we differ on is how to achieve this, and that's where it does start to feel a little hard to stomach. I fully believe in peaceful approaches. I'm a strong advocate of gun control, and I think any militia that thinks even their automatic weapons can stand up against the government's drones, tanks, missiles, etc, seems naive at best to me. Situations with weapons involved can escalate unnecessarily, as it did in this standoff, which led to one of the leaders of the militia getting killed. People in the nearby towns were scared. They felt like they were being bullied, which is ironic because on of the militia leaders later says (without irony) to the camera something to the effect of "the government can't come in here and bully and intimidate people with weapons."

Anyway, the point is, this is a riveting film, and one that is incredibly fair to everyone involved. Every character is treated with respect. There are some really great insights from both sides. And it shows how truly complex this situation was. It really made me think and it inspired me to try to find the commonalities I have with people on the other side of the political spectrum, which is something I think we all should be doing if we're going to keep American democracy in tact. I definitely recommend the film.

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