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O’er the Land: Deborah Stratman's Haunted American Spirits

Deborah Stratman’s new film, O’er the Land, takes its title from the final line of the first stanza of the National Anthem, when Francis Scott Key wondered if the flag still waved “o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” The anthem and what it connotes — patriotism, valor, war — serve as a backdrop against which the 50-minute film’s several gentle vignettes unfold. In them, we see costumed patriots trudging through verdant woods in Civil War reenactments, football players hopping up and down in a giddy dance in the stark light of a night game, and hulking RVs with their promise of exploration filling vast parking lots. Each of these very American images is shot with a still camera in carefully framed wide-angle shots, with Stratman’s typical formal rigor underscoring the laconic cultural systems that quietly churn in the background of American life. The film abruptly shifts gears, however, when a voice-over narration relates the gripping story of U.S. Marine Colonel William Rankin, a pilot forced to eject from his jet in 1959 while 47,000 feet above Earth (which he miraculously survived). While this dramatic interruption initially seems out of place within the carefully orchestrated segments that bracket it, the film’s fractured form underscores Stratman’s premise — namely, that the seemingly pervasive order of the world can be suddenly interrupted by the unexpected, and that this alternate view, like a bolt of lightning, illuminates new perspectives. In this way, O’er the Land echoes a continuing Stratman’s theme — a pondering of the boundaries and structures that frame everyday experience in a body of work that hovers between narrative and documentary. Stratman has been steadily crafting a poetic filmmaking practice rich with nuance and ripe for reflection, and her essayistic films reward careful, contemplative viewing. Stratman, who teaches in the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago, will present O’er the Land in person, along with The Paranormal Trilogy. (REDCAT; Mon., Feb. 23, 8:30 p.m. www.redcat.org)

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