REVIEW: Film Screening: The River and The Wall

“Building a wall from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security.”

-Will Hurd, Republican Congressman of Texas

A politicized landscape can be both metaphorical and physical. We preoccupy ourselves with the issues, and the solid ground they concern disappears. But for all those who benefit from this space–wildlife, nature enthusiasts, fishers,–forgetting is impossible. The land is sacred, life-giving, the means for making a living. Politicians in faraway places decide what happens, unaffected by the cascading effects a complete wall would have on the life here.

Important populations which have historically struggled to survive are put at risk by Trump’s border wall. Black bears and mountain lions, just coming back from local near-extinction, will suffer geographic isolation, decreasing genetic diversity and weakening the populations’ ability to withstand disease or other destructors. The meandering nature of the Rio Grande and the unrelenting straight edge of the wall necessitates a wide swath of no man’s land by the river, unjustly punishing local landowners and workers. The US side will lack the river, along with its aesthetic, spiritual, and bodily supportive value.

It’s impossible not to draw a connection from this to Robert Moses’ tyrannical reconstruction of New York during the mid-20th century. Caring not for the residents of its “slums” (read: people of color, the impoverished, undesirable white ethnic groups), he cut straight through with expressways and less-than-affordable new public housing. Rich, dense communities were reduced to identical buildings cut off from the rest of the city. The cultural and physical landscape of their old home had completely changed. He, like the Trump administration, was detached from the people he affected, and in this he lacked the knowledge and empathy necessary to be a leader of that kind. 

The river is our equalizer between us and our neighbors. A source of life, a means of survival and emotional wellbeing. The alluvial river plains, fertilized by upwelling of rich sediments during floods, are extremely productive areas. Losing out on this agricultural resource would be disastrous for farmers and the communities they support.

What bothered me about this documentary was the clearly elevated position on which its subjects stood. It really was not an accurate approximation of a migrant’s dangerous journey. They’re equipped with strong horses, expensive bikes and hiking gear, nice canoes. They are all young, in good health, physically strong. All the methods of transportation the five used (bikes, horses, canoes) are physically taxing. The film failed to bring up the unique dangers that elderly migrants face on their way, and also children, pregnant women, the ill. That side of the issue is an even darker facet, and it should be represented here.

Luckily, the film was able to balance the tragedy of our likely future with the joys of past and present. The cinematography was graceful and rugged at once, the environment lending itself to an exploration of the simultaneous existence of fear and awe. It seems to reflect a migrant’s experience because of that.

The ending was too idyllic for my taste, a little too naively hopeful. We see little direction for viewers to seize and act from. Emotion alone is not enough to argue against the political situation in which we find ourselves.

This website is a great resource for investigating what you can do.

 

PREVIEW: The River and The Wall

Free movie screenings truly are a gift to all, especially when they hit mid-week, the toughest time to get through. And with The River and The Wall, we’ll even learn a little something about the world.

The film follows the experience of five friends realizing just how impactful the in-progress U.S.-Mexico border wall truly is. It combines elements of philosophy, environmental science, politics, and human nature seamlessly, showing us exactly how interconnected such disciplines can be.

Head down tomorrow, Wednesday, February 19, 6 PM to the Gallery in Hatcher Graduate Library to watch with me. It isn’t confirmed, but there will likely be some snacks provided. Just in case, I’ll be bringing my favorite pretzels and some dark chocolate to enjoy.

REVIEW: Is This A Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription

Five years, three months: the longest sentence ever given for leaking classified information to media sources. This is Reality Winner’s punishment for her confessed involvement in the spread of private documents regarding Russian meddling in the 2016 United States presidential election. Given this record, are we not obligated to ask questions? Does this historical event not deserve to be emphasized, elevated to a position of art?

This play is thoughtful, unassuming in its simplicity. Art written in the moment of speaking, the best kind. The liberty they took with the background score was a little heavy for me sometimes, especially when it went on for prolonged periods below speech. We are already invested in the story, so the added dramatic tones were only distracting, kind of like a soap opera.

Still I was struck by how baldly pained actress Emily Davis’ expression was throughout the play, perfecting the panicked mix of emotions Reality Winner must have been feeling at the time. The FBI agents were not heavily dichotomized in tone, which was a relief, but instead reflected flawed humanity rather than stereotype.

But is the act of turning Reality into a play just, or some kind of spectacle-making that preys on her turmoil while wearing the disguise of the artist? Is there enough of an argument against ordinary journalism’s story-driven (and thus not always compassionate) tendencies for the theatre medium to survive? Provocative titles to articles like “Does Reality Winner ‘Hate America?'” seem to provide evidence for one. Other

In making the script a verbatim transcription of the interrogation, do we lose valuable insight into the case? There is zero analysis of the events here, nor is there any real background information beyond online and program literature. The point was, I guess, for the audience to draw their own thoughts together about the case, with only the absolute barest bones with which to work.

The trouble I have with this strategy is that no one in the audience is truly coming in with no background knowledge and/or opinions related to the case. Even those not exposed to media stories about Winner have no doubt heard the countless reports on collusion in the election, forming and borrowing speculations on the truth. Even the baseline action of creating this play is a statement that this story is hers, and deserves telling; that the outcome may not have been a rational one.

I suppose still that in our information age there is no real neutral ground. We are exposed to so much media, tinted with biases coming from every direction, mixing with our own, and coming out the other side a completely unique concoction. It’s easy to become confused with what our beliefs are based on. So a verbatim transcription of an interrogation, regardless of its background tunes, is probably as close to perfect as we’re going to get. Thankfully we see enough value in the honest truth to produce this kind of play, and for it to be so well-received. What a curious thing.

 

PREVIEW: Is This A Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription

Art often has some connection to politics, but often it’ll be diluted, stylized past the point of meaning as much. It’s rare to see this kind of drama in an untouched form. The audience and actors here are forced to work with nothing but reality to create artistic drama, and that is a unique challenge.

The play follows the 2017 interrogation of Reality Winner, ex-Air Force linguist who was accused of leaking information on Russian meddling with the 2016 presidential election. In this current political landscape, this story is fully relevant to our wondering minds, many of which have been thus far unsatisfied with other media coverage.

Show times:

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 29, 2020 7:30 PM
THURSDAY, JANUARY 30, 2020 7:30 PM
FRIDAY, JANUARY 31, 2020 8:00 PM
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2020 8:00 PM
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2020 2:00 PM // ARTHUR MILLER THEATRE

Tickets are $35 for general admission, and $12-20 for high school and college students. Find them here: https://ums.org/performance/is-this-a-room-reality-winner-verbatim-transcript/

REVIEW: As Far As My Fingertips Take Me

You put on the headphones, and they themselves seem significant: the wires connect but they constrict, you have to rely on the tinny sound for information but it blocks out your surroundings. The whole experience was full of these contradictions, to the point that I had to consciously stop myself from thinking through them in order to pay attention. There’s the white wall to my side, and though I can see the borders of it from where I sit I can’t see the other side, so it’s as good as infinite. A little light is coming from where I’ve offered up my arm to the artist, Basel Zaraa, and I’m tempted to look down and through to meet his eyes but I know that something will be broken if I do.

The felt-tip marker is brushing over the flesh on the inside of my forearm and my palm, and I hate how gently he’s holding my fingers down because already I’ve associated him with a Dublin Regulation fingerprint database employee. When I realize I’ve put myself in a position I am privileged to never experience, it’s jarring and it’s a feeling that’s creeping like sweat along my forehead.

I don’t feel any one thing completely after, except for quiet. Not quieted, not disquieted, not just not speaking and not just alone. Quiet is the only adjective I can give myself. I’m sad for what I don’t know and especially for why I don’t, the stupid luck that let me be born into stability and the politics that let others live out of backpacks. Travel is so often romanticized, but there is a difference between travel by choice and by circumstance (further reading: https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470670590.wbeog940).

So in about 15 minutes I’m in and out of another world, halfway a vagabond myself. I’m back and walking home and I feel homesick but mostly physically so, my eyes kind of glassy. It’s a little disappointing that I wasn’t physically transported, though of course that would be impossible. I’m still in Ann Arbor, Michigan walking down the street, and I have no reason to fear that I won’t be here tomorrow. There is a constant stream going through my head berating me for how little I know about the world, and it feels like an abuse to wear this tattoo on my arm like a costume.

But I can use that guilt he’s given me, to take learning into my own hands and to get politically involved. Where the law does not protect the safety of people worried for their lives, there is a problem, a violation of human rights. As election season is upon us, it is a perfect time to get involved and get the right people elected. With primaries right around the corner, the time for active research is now.

You can find out more about Tania El Khoury’s work on her website: https://taniaelkhoury.com/

PREVIEW: As Far As My Fingertips Take Me

Imagine what a lonely terror it is to lose your home to violence and instability, and then be cast into a stranger’s land. For most of us, this will never be our reality, but for the 70 million forcibly displaced peoples around the world, it is.

As Far As My Fingertips Take Me forces the subject to take on the identity of the refugee for a couple of minutes, reading the poignant writing on the wall and offering a nervous arm through to the unknown. This innovative one-on-one exhibit design incorporates the poetic and visual artworks of Basel Zaraa.

The work is the brain child of Tania El Khoury, a contemporary live artist known for her productions that illuminate issues that are of both the heart and political machine. This exhibit in particular has toured far and wide, gathering awed reviews from major publications like The Washington Post and The New York Times. 

The exhibit will be shown at the U-M Institute for the Humanities from January 24, 2020  February 2, 2020, tickets: ums.org. Be sure to arrive 15 minutes ahead of your showtime as the schedule is extremely strict.