Guest post by Allison Otto, “Bisbee” Project Director
I grew up in the American Southwest and for two, amazing years I lived in a 26-foot, 1958 vintage Airstream in Bisbee, Arizona. It’s a beautiful, remote little town nestled deep in the Mule Mountains, nine miles from the Mexican border.
Like many rural communities in the US, though, Bisbee is struggling. Its population has dramatically declined–and continues to decline–due to isolation and economic recession. Arizona’s economic crash in 2009 was the 2nd worst of all states in the nation behind Michigan and as Arizona plummeted into an economic tailspin, Bisbee’s workforce was cut by more than 20%. In 2013, Cochise County–of which Bisbee is the county seat–suffered the largest percentage population loss of any county in the US as residents moved elsewhere.
“Survival depends on collaboration, merged skillsets and the creative reimagining of community and place.”
Bisbee has responded to these challenges in unique ways: Residents feel they must plan for their future with little help from state and federal resources. Drawing on a frontier mentality, survival depends on collaboration, merged skillsets and the creative reimagining of community and place.
The award-winning Arizona author Richard Shelton once described Bisbee as “one of the most unusual-looking towns in the United States…It looks like a toy town straggling down the canyon and up the hills on both sides…Crowded, cluttered, unkempt, amazing, magnificent Bisbee…a toy town where real people live and suffer.”
The residents who remain in Bisbee feel a deep connection to their home, and they believe their adaptability, creativity and resilience will guide the town into a sustainable future.
“[Interactive documentaries] can be especially effective and compelling when creating a community-centered project with an ongoing storyline.”
I considered creating “Bisbee” as a traditional linear documentary, but having lived in the town I knew its colorful history and the residents’ dreams and struggles couldn’t be done justice in an 80-minute film. Interactive documentaries aren’t the best choice for every story, but they can be especially effective and compelling when creating a community-centered project with an ongoing storyline. “Bisbee” is a project that requires not only video portraits, but also historical still photography and footage, data, soundscapes, community-generated content and vintage audio recordings from residents past and present to truly create a nuanced, immersive experience.
In the i-doc “Hollow,” project director Elaine McMillion and UI/UX designer and architect Jeff Soyk shared a fascinating look into McDowell County, WV and helped empower locals to share their stories. Receiving feedback from Jeff and Elaine has been invaluable with the creation of “Bisbee.” Like McDowell, Bisbee has struggled mightily, but now the Bisbee community is at a stage where they are pursuing a DIY mentality and are creatively pursuing a sustainable future.
Some of their current projects include transforming a barren field into a community garden, restoring old buildings for local small businesses, restoring a local park on Main Street, running a volunteer-powered community radio station that offers youth media training, and even repurposing found objects and incorporating them into walls, gates and the homes of residents.
Along the way the community has faced many challenges–and inevitably some failures–but the lessons they’ve learned and the choices they make could prove of great benefit to other rural communities globally.
Allison is currently crowd-funding through Kickstarter to create the Bisbee interactive documentary, click here to find out more and add your donation.