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No Man’s Land

2017
Distributed by Bullfrog Films, PO Box 149, Oley, PA 19547; 800-543-FROG (3764)
Produced by Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock, David Holbrooke, Stash Wislocki, David Osit, Rachel Traub
Directed by David Byars
DVD, color, 27 min.
College - General Adult
Agriculture, Politics, Protest Movements, Terrorism


Reviewed by Phil Salvador, American University Library, American University

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 10/5/2018

The filmmakers of No Man’s Land have an extraordinary level of access: They took their cameras on both sides of the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by anti-government militants. With no narrative voiceover, the documentary cuts between ground-level views of the extremist ranchers who occupied the wildlife refuge and the people in the town caught in the turmoil.

The film is a bracing, unpleasant experience. The rising tension is unbearable. Ominous music underscores the scenes of a tearful town hall meeting or the ranchers declaring their righteousness to the press. Director David Byars covers the crisis like a foreign war correspondent; he gets up close with the people involved in this incident, allowing them to speak for themselves and using news footage only to provide context to the events.

No Man’s Land is not particularly sympathetic towards the militant ranchers, and spending so much time with these dangerous people is uncomfortable. But in their conflict, the film finds a story about tension in rural America, why people might violently defend their shrinking opportunities in the name of what they consider “cultural heritage,” and what happens when we lose our common bonds and “start worrying who our neighbors are.” In a remarkable moment captured midway into the film, one of the extremists who has been heckling law enforcement is approached by an FBI negotiator, who tries to open a dialogue with him by acknowledging that they both served in the military. “We've got a lot in common here, and we can resolve this,” he says.

The footage in this film is one-of-a-kind. This is the definitive documentary about the mindsets of the key players of the Malheur Standoff as it happened. It is highly recommended for studies about domestic right-wing extremism, rural politics, and land management issues, with the warning that the film includes disturbing footage of person being killed by police.