I started the film because I was thinking about how we’ve come to understand freedom in this country. More and more over the years, we think about freedom being tied to property ownership, and then property needs to be defended. It seemed to me that a lot of people were defining freedom in terms of commodity or something material whereas for me it still is very much something absolutely nonmaterial and kind of metaphysical.
—Deborah Stratman, VOX interview
As American pioneer freedom dissolved into vague nostalgia (illustrated by Norman Rockwell), we lost our grip on that freedom. Private property and commodity become the only space left, the only foothold on the eroding cliff of the American dream. As Marx put it, “all that is solid melts into air.” Through that thickened air falls Col. William Rankin, the subject of one of O’er the Land’s narratives. In 1959, Rankin was forced to eject from his F8U fighter jet at 48,000—directly above a thunderstorm. He fell, blown and buffeted through the thunderhead for forty-five minutes and (miraculously) survived. He was saved, not by his high-tech American military jet—which had stalled midair—but instead by something non-material and metaphysical.
Throughout her work, Deborah Stratman has tried to grasp at what is beyond our grasp, what we are afraid of losing but have already lost. In 2003, she instituted a project called FEAR, a toll free number where callers could record a voice-mail of their biggest fear. Not a single message was about a fear of terrorists or the economy. People were afraid of loneliness, afraid of being unloved or being unable to love. As we enter a more controlled world, full of security cameras, gated communities, and volunteer border patrols, O’er the Land, like this earlier work, asks if there might be a better way to quell our collective fears. Put briefly, do we join gun clubs because we just want to be free/loved?
Deborah Stratman’s O’er the Land shows Thursday March 18th at 7:30pm as a part of the Women with Vision 2010 international film festival. Admission is free thanks to Target Free Thursday Nights.
Jeremy Meckler is a fresh face on the Walker film/video intern scene–a student at Macalester College in Saint Paul, focusing on film studies and video production, he is always happy to hop across the river for an opportunity to put esoteric skills to use.