On April 10, the University of Massachusetts Boston Film Series will host a screening of “O’er The Land” — the antepenultimate film in the series. Directed by Deborah Stratman, the film explores the darker corners of our national culture, specifically our pervasive pugnacity, dominion over the natural world, and technological captivity. A commentary on the often-overwhelming interplay of cultural systems, the film begs the question: what happens when our complex cultural values are revealed as detrimental and restrictive?
The film opens silently with a quote from Lieutenant Colonel William Rankin, who, in 1959, survived a 48,000-foot free-fall after an emergency ejection from his crashing fighter jet. In the quote, Rankin exposes the hollowness of the concept of heroism, a sentiment subtly echoed throughout the documentary.
Without explanation, the film continues with a series of various scenes, sometimes paired with recorded audio. Though initially difficult to piece together, after a few vignettes, a pattern is revealed. The film's cinematic elements all serve to illustrate the ways in which individuals can find themselves entrapped by their cultural surroundings.
One of the larger themes in “O’er The Land” is the tension between nature and technology. To defend against the human tendency to compartmentalize these two worlds, Stratman forces them together by interweaving shots of both the natural and the unnatural. Striking images of caged birds, debris burning in the forest, and an outdoor gun range capture the ways in which we have sanctioned aggressive interventionism under the guise of culture. This observable juxtaposition presented in the context of American society, demonstrates how the patriarchal compulsion to exert dominance over the natural world as a display of freedom and strength has become ingrained in our national identity.
By exploring these themes, “O’er The Land” provokes critical analysis. It brings to light the idea that we operate according to a fallacy that defines freedom as our capacity to control and exploit. This concept of freedom is, in reality, not freedom at all but a veiled trap. The film begs us to awaken our shared consciousness and to cease mindless compliance, by reminding us that there is a larger context beyond the complex world we have made for ourselves.
“O’er The Land” is an unconventional documentary. Its composition is experimental in style. The film’s themes are addressed through stylistic cinematic techniques, rather than through a structured plot. There is no formal or systematic narration. There is no dialogue. The audio that is heard is limited to voice recordings and ambient sound. This audio is played over various images, sometimes appearing to relate only vaguely to what is being shown on screen. Sets of deliberately chosen images create powerful and focused vignettes. The film’s cinematic details, whether a camera zoom or a quick transition, allow for the effective delivery Stratman's central message.
The documentary is a highly conceptual piece that compels viewers to create meaning for themselves. It encourages active contemplation and challenges viewers to reexamine preconceived notions of culture and free society. Enlightening and compelling, “O’er The Land” is powerful critique of the complexities that plague our social consciousness.
The UMass Boston Film Series will be hosting a screening of “O’er The Land” on Thursday, April 10 at 7 p.m. in the Campus Center Ballroom.