David Byars, who directed, produced and shot the documentary “No Man’s Land,” will be present via Skype for a question-and-answer session after a Sept. 21 screening of the movie at Star Hall. [Courtesy photo]

Wild landscapes are often at the center of the debate surrounding land use in the American West.

The federal government controls about 640 million acres west of the Mississippi River – nearly one-third of all Western soil. In Utah, 64.9 percent of all land is managed by federal land management agencies, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. In recent years, some private landowners who would like to see this land used for logging, ranching and recreation have been butting heads with these agencies.

In January 2016, the land-use debate came to a head when Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with their followers, occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon until mid-February, demanding that the land and its resources be given back to the people. Eventually, the protesters were arrested and one combatant was killed when he tried to evade a police roadblock.

On Thursday, Sept. 21, at 7 p.m., you can watch the argument unfold in a free screening of “No Man’s Land” at Star Hall, 159 E. Center St., thanks to the Utah Film Center and the Grand County Public Library.

The documentary is the directorial debut of David Byars, who directed, produced and shot the film. He will be present via Skype for a question-and-answer session after the screening.

Byars has been following the debate ever since Cliven Bundy, father of Ammon and Ryan, led a protest in Nevada where he demanded to be able to use Bureau of Land Management- (BLM-) administered land to graze his cattle without a permit.

Utah Film Center Program Coordinator David Davis said that Byars “is smart, level-headed and non-judgmental.” Byars, as a documentarian, “questions default assumptions and is more interested in complex truths than easy conclusions,” Davis added.

“No Man’s Land” is an unbiased account of the land-use dispute, according to the filmmaker.

“We are in a moment in time where there is massive mistrust in the federal government,” Byars said. “In Utah, where there are vast swaths of federally managed lands, many of those who hold antipathy towards central power see any regulation of this land as the long arm of an arrogant federal government that is indifferent to their input, and they’re not always wrong.”

When Byars heard that there were protesters occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon, he wasted no time enveloping himself and his camera with the “patriot movement” led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy. Filming solo, Byars gained unprecedented access to these 20 combatants armed with semi-automatic rifles.

“When it comes down to it, these are people. Humans are complex beings with myriad and contradictory motivations,” Byars said. “I’ve seen the left/right paradigm grow from a strained yet respectful discourse to a gaping divide never to be crossed … That said, I do not agree with them on lands transfer or privatization, but would not make a film that off-handedly discounts their grievances or paints them as simpletons.”

Davis said that it’s up to the viewer to determine the effectiveness of Ammon Bundy and his group.

“It’s emotional, chilling viewing nonetheless, because of how committed the occupiers are, and how misunderstood they feel,” he said.

In recent years, southeastern Utah has seen its own land-use disputes, most notably, in a group all-terrain-vehicle ride on public lands that prohibit the use of motorized vehicles in Recapture Canyon near Blanding in May 2014. Byars, living in Colorado at the time, was present for this showdown.

“I naively believed that everyone out West was thrilled to have access to the biggest playground in the world,” he said. “What I was missing was that there is a massive economic benefit to be had from these lands, and that not all folks were happy to leave these lands unexploited in the short term. It can quickly devolve into a good-versus-evil characterization.”

These issues are symptomatic of the dissatisfaction growing within large factions of the American public. They cannot continue to be ignored by those in positions of power, the filmmaker said.

“Utah is ground zero for the lands transfer debate, and it is going to be in Utah where the bleeding edge of this will play out,” Byars said.

Sept. 21 screening at Star Hall to feature Q&A with director

“Utah is ground zero for the lands transfer debate, and it is going to be in Utah where the bleeding edge of this will play out.”

When: Thursday, Sept. 21, at 7 p.m.

Where: Star Hall, 159 E. Center St.

Cost: Free

Information: www.utahfilmcenter.org