2009, 16 mm film, 51:40 minutes
With the excuse of freedom, we lose so many things. - Silvio Barile
A meditation on the milieu of elevated threat addressing national identity, gun culture, wilderness, consumption, patriotism and the possibility of personal transcendence. Of particular interest are the ways Americans have come to understand freedom and the increasingly technological reiterations of manifest destiny.
While channeling our national psyche, the film is interrupted by the story of Col. William Rankin who in 1959, was forced to eject from his F8U fighter jet at 48,000 feet without a pressure suit, only to get trapped for 45 minutes in the up and down drafts of a massive thunderstorm. Remarkably, he survived. Rankin's story represents a non-material, metaphysical kind of freedom. He was vomited up by his own jet, that American icon of progress and strength, but violent purging does not necessarily lead to reassessment or redirection.
This film is concerned with the sudden, simple, thorough ways that events can separate us from the system of things, and place us in a kind of limbo. Like when we fall. Or cross a border. Or get shot. Or saved. The film forces together culturally acceptable icons of heroic national tradition with the suggestion of unacceptable historical consequences, so that seemingly benign locations become zones of moral angst.
World Premiere: Sundance Film Festival, 2009
European Premiere: Rotterdam International Film Festival, 2009
L’Alternativa International Film Festival, Barcelona: Best Documentary Feature
CPH:DOX International Documentary Film Festival, Copenhagen: New Vision Award
Cinema Eye Honors: Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography Nominee
Ann Arbor Film Festival: Ken Burns Award for Best of Festival
Iowa City International Documentary Film Festival: Best in Festival
Images Festival, Toronto: Best International Film
Camera, Edit, Sound Design: Deborah Stratman
Music: Maryane Amacher, Kevin Drumm, Steve Rowell, Lustmord
Sound Mix: Jacob Ross
A vast vacuity: all unawares
Reviews - Click on the link for the full review.
Fluttering his pennons vain, plumb down he drops
Ten thousand fathoms deep, and to this hour
Down had been falling, had not by ill chance
The strong rebuff of some tumultuous cloud,
Instinct with fire and nitre, hurried him
As many miles aloft…
With fresh alacrity and force renewed
Springs upward like a pyramid of fire
Into the wild expanse, and, through the shock
Of fighting elements on all sides round
Environed, wins his way...
- John Milton, “Paradise Lost”
"Deborah Stratman takes a more sustained look at the notion of American freedom in O’er the Land, which stood out among this year’s selection as one of the strongest and most timely works."
- Genevieve Yue, Reverse Shot, 2009
"And like Tati's films, it's a hell of a work of cinematography, unrivaled by any of the webcam posers coming out of bedroom-box Europe. Stratman exploits 16mm's deep-focus precision so that spectators half-a-mile from the camera can be seen acting with the characters in the foreground."
- Johnny Lavant, The Auteurs.com, 2009
"When she raises her camera, seeing is already thinking. In all her work there is a quality of watchful attention, an outraged politic, an experience lived through the body and searched out again through her camera double."
- Mike Hoolboom, pdf
Originally published in: Amerikan Dreamers (2008), and Millennium Film Journal (Fall-Winter 2008)
"O'er the Land is like Foucault's idea of lightning: a flash in the night that gives black intensity to the night it denies..."
- Holly Willis, L. A. Weekly, February 18, 2009
"Deborah Stratman has created a beautiful meditation on militarized culture, an elegant, logical strand, an oasis in a festival of generally more hurried films"
- Robert Davis, "Sundance 2009: Final Scorecard", Paste Magazine, Jan. 29, 2009
Deborah Stratman's films feature multiple explosions and a jarring mix of noises and near-silent drones, so it is curious to also discover that an endearing innocence often prevails, a longing for some kind of miracle—a flying saucer or a goblin—just around the bend. This sense of wonder remains at the heart of Stratman's O'er the Land (2009), featuring the true story of a man who fell through the sky and lived to tell about it. William H. Rankin's 1960 book The Man Who Rode the Thunder chronicles his survival following a harrowing plane crash, when he tumbled through the frozen atmosphere and a live thunderstorm before hitting the ground, with only a tree to break his forty-minute fall."
- Annie Buckley, "All Fall Down", Artforum online, February 21, 2009
"Deborah Stratman's film O'er the Land is not likely to get a multi-million dollar deal out of Sundance. There is no hot-button issue, no unbelievable scenario, no celebrities, crazy characters, or even much dialogue at all. But to me, this is the type of film I'm most pleased to see at Sundance, the type of film that keeps festivals vital. Stratman's experimental documentary explores America's relationship to nature, technology and violence in a way that is smart, poetic and darkly humorous.
- Mark Elijah Rosenberg, Founder/Artistic Director of Rooftop Films, pdf
Originally published: IFC.com Jan. 19, 2009
"[This] staggering treatise on technology and violence in American mythology is strong on all fronts. Pairing subtle yet complex sound design with some otherworldly visuals of American weapons at work and play, Stratman finds people completely outside of her art audience's usual experience but avoids contextualizing them as the other. At the heart of O'ER THE LAND is the nearly unbelievable account of Col. William Rankin's emergency ejection from his fighter jet. Forced to bail at 48,000 feet, Rankin spent 45 harrowing minutes negotiating his parachute through the strong winds of a powerful thunderstorm before landing in a tree."
- Christy LeMaster, Cine-File February 6, 2009
"Freedom fighters are the focus of Deborah Stratman's superb film O'er the Land (2009), which, in fifty-one minutes, captures, as the artist herself put it, 'iconic representations of how nationhood is defined.' That nation would be the USA, home of French and Indian War reenactments in Kokomo, Indiana; high school football games in [Columbus, Ohio]; machine-gun festivals; and border policing—both to the south and the north, with a long take of Niagara Falls having a near-hypnotic effect after so much firepower. Yet whereas borders are vigilantly guarded in Stratman's work, the Images Festival excels by doing precisely the opposite..."
- Melissa Anderson, "Pie With Dignity", Artforum online April 15, 2009
"Filmmaker Deborah Stratman's harsh juxtapositions and textual overlaps might make for laborious viewing if they weren't so seductive. In short videos and feature films, such as The BLVD and Kings of the Sky, Stratman trusts the audience enough to let us parse out the bitter ironies and serene paradoxes for ourselves. Her latest should endear her to fans of classic pastiche docs like Atomic Café and Star Spangled to Death. Similarly fixated on national identity, O'er the Land mixes footage of Americana both banal (football games) and violent (a machine gun festival) with the story of William Rankin, a Marine Colonel who was battered in the air for nearly an hour by severe storms after being ejected from his fighter plane."
- Stephen Gossett, pdf
Originally published: Flavorpill November 12, 2008
"Deborah Stratman is at the top of her game here, fashioning a Martian-eye view of an America built from a robust, and absurd masculinity. A rich soundtrack layers and juxtaposes diegetic sound -- musket fire, birds chirping etc. -- with a sci-fi soundscape of droning synths, enhanced helicopters and much more. The similarly rich visual palette takes us on an overheated (thematically) and strangely still (visually) 16mm tour of men and their toys, from a shooting range to firemen in a rural town. All this is presented without commentary, only an occasional foray into disembodied voices talking about RVs or patrolling the border or most strangely, a guy reading Lt. Colonel William Rankin's first-person account of surviving a plane crash. Near the end we're introduced to birds flutttering into their cages while being monitored and golden, gorgeous shots of men stoking a fire at night, in the aftermath of some senseless firepower. What does it all mean? Why does this work so well? It's hard to say for sure, but the important thing is that in Stratman's masterful, intuitive hands, we ask this question throughout her non-narrative. A great bookend to Now is the Future of the Past, and almost like the Great Lost Experimental Classic of the Early '70s."
- Paul Sturtz, True/False Documentary Film Festival
"A voyager at the experimental fringe of documentary film, Chicago filmmaker Deborah Stratman has made an extraordinary body of unclassifiable works. Her latest 52-minute piece collects serene 16mm shots from un-serene settings, including a high school football game, a gathering of Revolutionary War re-enactors and a gun fair. Rarely since Werner Herzog's Stroszek has there been such a keen-eyed portrayal of all-American madness."
- Jason Anderson, pdf
Originally published: "Burned upon the brain" Eye Weekly Toronto, April 1, 2009
"Deborah's films, rather than telling stories, pose a series of problems - and through their at times ambiguous nature, allow for a quite complicated reading of the questions she is asking. These two films (In Order Not To Be Here and O'er the Land) point to the relationships between physical spaces or environments and the very human struggles for power, ownership / mastery and control that are played out on the land, meanwhile questioning elemental historical narratives about freedom, expansion, security, and the regulation of space."
- Michelle Puetz, Cinema, Nature, Ecology Conference, University of Chicago, April 2009
Return to Film Work
Guns remain with us for a host of reasons. They make up part of the sacrament of the West, an area forged by an armed populace, and where even today “the great equalizer” is still a symbol of democracy and individualism.
- Ralph Rugoff
The medieval marriage of technology and faith remains part of the contemporary landscape of technological and intellectual production, producing a hybrid condition that underlies much of modernity's fascination with belief in development--that of a 'faith' in the goodness (or rightness) of scientific and technological development. In short, "the technological enterprise” has been and remains suffused with religious belief.
- David Noble
Under the most oppressive regimes, a man, a woman, can keep and experience their freedom: freedom is a state of mind. It is born (and often dies) in the mind.
- Etel Adnan