'Through the Repellent Fence': Film Review | SXSW 2017

Michael Lundgren
A stirringly photographed survey of Land Art.

This visually engaging, sociopolitical take on the artistic process premiered at SXSW.

Seeing as the Trump administration has started to review border wall design submissions, they might want to consider the work of Postcommodity, an art collective whose two-mile-long 2015 outdoor installation straddles the U.S.-Mexico border.

Granted, the ambitious work, called the "Repellent Fence" and comprised of 28 enormous, vibrant-colored inflatable spheres hovering over the border between Arizona and Sonora, doesn’t actually prevent anybody from getting in or out; but it nevertheless makes an eye-catching statement.

The behind-the-scenes efforts of the trio of Native American artists intending to make a (hopefully) lasting testimonial is documented in Through the Repellent Fence, a visually rewarding account that will make a good fit for art museum and educational video libraries.

Each emblazoned with imposing, round predator eyes appropriated from indigenous iconography, the repellent balloons were initially intended for outdoor pest control.

At first they’d do the trick, but the birds who were once deterred would ultimately return and poop on them. Repurposing them, albeit on a much larger scale (each tethered balloon measures 10 feet in diameter), the members of Postcommodity view the work as a “metaphorical suture stitching together cultures” that inhabited the lands long before physical borders were drawn.

While heavy winds delay the big unveiling, Austin-based director Sam Wainwright Douglas takes advantage of the down time to survey other notable examples of Land Art, including Robert Smithson’s "Spiral Jetty" on Utah’s Great Salt Lake and Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s 2005 Central Park installation, "The Gates."

Elevated by David Layton’s stirring outdoor photography, the film serves as a whimsical, beckoning endorsement of diversity and inclusion.

Production company: Big Beard Films
Director: Sam Wainwright Douglas
Producers: Julianne Brannum, Jeffrey Brown, David Hartstein
Executive producers: Shirley Sneeve, Paul Allan Hunton
Director of photography: David Layton
Editor: Sam Wainwright Douglas
Music: Walter Moccasin, Alex Maas, Brett Orrison
Venue: South by Southwest (Festival Favorites)

74 minutes