Bisbee, Ariz., not far from the Mexican border, is a quiet former mining town, one of many such places scattered across the American West. Tombstone, site of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and a popular tourist destination, is just up the road.
Bisbee has a notably violent episode in its past as well, an event that is the subject of “Bisbee ’17,” Robert Greene’s clearsighted and gratifyingly complicated new documentary.
Starting on July 12, 1917 — a few months after the United States entered World War I and in the midst of labor agitation across the mining industry — sheriff’s deputies rounded up around 1,200 people thought to be union activists, forced them into boxcars and transported them to the New Mexico desert.
What came to be known as the Bisbee Deportation lingered at the margins of local memory, not forgotten but not much discussed either. As the centennial approached, a group of history-minded citizens organized a re-enactment, and Mr. Greene focuses on the preparations for that curious pageant.
The nature of performance — the ways reality can be counterfeited and uncovered when people take on different identities — has preoccupied this filmmaker for a while. “Actress” (2014) and “Kate Plays Christine” (2016) both examine individual performers as they slip between selves, taking a sometimes voyeuristic interest in the psychological implications of acting.
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