A little known 19th century rebellion inspires modern resistance
In the 1840s, New York remained the only state in the nation that still had a feudal system of land ownership, unchanged after the Revolution. Descendants of the European landed aristocracy owned vast parcels of land in Upstate NY and leased it to farmers who toiled the land with no right to own it. The farmers rebelled.
Dressed in spooky costumes, armed with pitchforks and rifles, the farmers descended from bucolic hills in menacing gangs to harass the authorities in what they called the Anti-Rent War, or the Second American Revolution. Today Upstate New York residents, inspired by their ancestors’ rebellion, defend their environment and push corporate fossil-fuel oligarchy off their land.
The collective voice of the town, the past that informs the present.
Filmed over the course of three years in New York State and Pennsylvania, the film weaves together historical and contemporary narratives through vérité scenes, interviews, archival footage and animation creating a vibrant portrait of rural communities. Local artists’ music, songs and visual art used in the film are all inspired by the flamboyant historical uprising. Nature creates a poetic and powerful backdrop for the narrative and its conflicts. A rare original 1845 Calico costume becomes a character in its own right: a visual metaphor for the untamed spirit of rebellion still alive today in the Catskills.
They wanted to conceal their identities – and created a flamboyant subculture.
“Looking more like animals dressed in women’s clothing than the original inhabitants of the land they worked, the Calico Indians embraced freedom by embracing otherness… With their secret oaths, midnight forays, bizarre costumes, their violence mixed with grandiose heroics, they clearly believed that to be an Indian was not merely to be non-white, but also something bigger than life. Crossing racial, gender, even species lines,
Thom Metzger, “Transform and Rebel”
The spirit of resistance is alive and well in the Catskills today.
With massive fracked gas extraction from Marcellus Shale in neighboring Pennsylvania, New York State has emerged as a major obstacle for the oil and gas corporations’ ambition to unleash America’s fossil-fuel resources.
The film uses the dramatic history of a little known farmers’ uprising as a creative vehicle to reveal the radical democratic potential of modern Americans' connection to their land and environment.