A little known 19th century rebellion inspires modern resistance
New York State was one of the last states in the nation to retain feudal land relations through mid-19th century. Farmers were held in indentured servitude by absentee aristocratic landlords, who exploited their labor and refused to sell them the land. Tired of paying rent for the land they toiled on but could not own, the farmers banded together to fight the injustice. They invented wild disguises to protect their identities...
Armed with pitchforks and rifles, they descended from the hills as menacing costumed gangs, to harass the authorities in what they called the “Second American Revolution”. The uprising paved the way to land reform across America, and the creation of Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party.
Drawing inspiration from the fabled Anti-Rent War of the 1840s and their "revolutionary" ancestors, local residents fight for their rights, and discover the power of tapping into their progressive history, and strength in community .
The collective voice of the town, the past that informs the present.
The Town that Shot the Sheriff is an observational documentary that weaves together vérité scenes, interviews, historical archive and animation to bring to light pressing social, political and environmental issues. The film interweaves historical and contemporary narratives in a portrait of a rural community and its past and present struggles.
Within this complex tapestry, the rare original Calico Costume from 1845 emerges as a character in its own right: an archetypal image of the farmers’ rebellion and of its wild spirit - still alive in the lush Catskill Mountains.
On screen, myth is intertwined with reality - unfolding slowly in a fairy-tale, menacing at times, like a dream imbued with the wildness of nature itself. The story of contemporary activism is conveyed through the mythical language and history of place.
They wanted to free themselves from feudalism – and created a flamboyant subculture.
“The ultimate truth of America’s physical nature – rocks, water, sky – were intimately linked to a metaphysical American nature that would always be bound up with mythic national identities. The secrets to both natures lay in Indianness. It is in this particular, historical relation between immigrants, natives, land, and political rebellion that Indianness began to acquire its most critical meanings.
When white Americans dressed as Indians, they sent the signal of total rebellion. Ideas signified by Indianness were deeply ingrained in the American cultural psyche and ideologically very powerful ... Amidst the steel skyscrapers of the alienating modern city, the Indian continued to lie in wait, always materializing when citizens gathered to proclaim American -- and now modern -- identities."
Philip Deloria, "Playing Indian"
The spirit of resistance is alive and well in the Catskills today.
In the tradition of the flamboyant rebellion staged by their ancestors, local residents begin to organize against brazen corporate power and fossil-fuel oligarchy.
A group of local landowners
and activists lead by the maverick lawyer Anne
Marie Garti, takes on the fossil-fuel industry
and develops new strategies and tactics that show
the way for many other environmental groups all over the US. The group reveals and demonstrates the radical democratic potential of modern Americans’ connection to the land and their environment.
In an effort to inspire, the film highlights how far people are prepared to go – both past and present - to fight for their home, their heritage, and for justice.