Publication Date

November 15, 2019

Perspectives Section

Perspectives Daily

If you need a break from the usual sessions at the AHA annual meeting in New York City this year, head to the Association’s 13th annual film festival. From immigrants to literary figures, the Holocaust to indigenous activism, this year’s films wrestle with challenging but important historical issues. Two of the films are winners of the AHA’s 2019 John E. O’Connor Film Award, recognizing outstanding interpretations of history through the medium of film or video in both documentary and feature filmmaking categories. 

Grasshopper Film.

Bisbee ‘17, the O’Connor documentary winner (Saturday, 1:30 to 5:00 p.m.), tells the story of an unusual historical re-enactment.On July 12, 1917, 2,000 deputized residents of Bisbee, Arizona, organized by the management of Phelps Dodge, the town’s primary employer, rounded up 1,300 striking workers, union activists, and recent immigrants and deported them to the New Mexico desert. Precisely 100 years later, Bisbee’s citizens staged a re-enactment of those events. Dramatizing scenes based on the town’s collective memory with surprising humor and suspense, the film simultaneously reminds us of the intertwined histories of immigration and labor and evokes the contemporary resonance of past conflicts. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion including director Robert Greene, historical adviser Katherine A. Benton-Cohen, and contributors to a June 2019 AHR roundtable on the film, including Rebecca Orozco (Cochise Coll.), Elliott Young (Lewis and Clark Coll.), Kenyon W. Zimmer (Univ. of Texas at Arlington), and Desiree J. Garcia (Darmouth Coll.).

Bleecker Street Media.

We travel next to France with a screening of Colette, the O’Connor feature-film winner (Saturday, 7:00 to 9:30 p.m.). This biopic of the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873–1954) provides an origin story for the woman we know simply as “Colette.” We follow the young scribe from her home in rural France to the salons of Paris as she becomes a ghostwriter for her husband’s literary firm, and then rebels against his attempts to control her and take credit for her work. Set at the fin-de-siècle, the film renders universal one woman’s struggle to find her voice. Patricia Tilburg (Davidson Coll.) will introduce the film and lead a discussion afterward.


The year 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and this year’s film festival provides a sneak peek of an upcoming television documentary. On Sunday from 1:00 to 3:30 p.m., meeting attendees can see an advance screening of “Bombing Auschwitz,” an episode of the PBS series Secrets of the Dead. The episode considers the moral dilemma faced by Allied powers during World War II: whether to end many lives to save a far greater number by attacking the infamous camp. The episode will air January 22 at 8 p.m. EST (check local listings). It will be introduced by Daniel Greene (Newberry Library and Northwestern Univ.) and Rebecca L. Erbelding (US Holocaust Memorial Museum), with a discussion to follow.

Rumble the Movie.

Finally, the film festival includes an experimental session with a screening of Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, an award-winning 2017 documentary about the little-known story about the Indigenous influence on American popular music, from 3:30 to 5:45 p.m. on Sunday. Following the screening will be a roundtable discussion about creating the documentary, using it in the classroom, and how it provides a more complete understanding of this chapter on the history of American music. The panel will be chaired by Phil Deloria (Harvard Univ.) and includes Pura Fé (Ulali Project), Malinda Maynor Lowery (Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), and John Troutman (National Museum of American History).

All screenings and discussions will take place in the Rendezvous Trianon room of the New York Hilton. The AHA Annual Meeting Program Committee welcomes proposals for film screenings at the 2021 annual meeting in Seattle. Films should be submitted for consideration as experimental session proposals, describing the film and identifying discussants or a panel of discussants. 

Laura Ansley is managing editor at the AHA. She tweets @lmansley.

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