Political Film Society - Newsletter #138 - July 1, 2002

July 10, 2002


Director-writer John Sayles's pilgrimage across America to uncover conflicts of class and race has taken him to Florida in Sunshine State. The setting is mythical Plantation Island, though the actual filming took place at a resort on Amelia Island, Florida. Using short cuts, we learn how the tragic past seems to cloud the present for nearly everyone. Caucasian Yankee retirees playing golf think of the era when pirates discovered Florida and the native Seminole population, but they are oblivious of a reality that threatens to shatter the everyday lives of those who have scraped out an existence in Florida for generations. Among the longtime residents are the African Americans, who in 1934 pooled their money to buy property and build houses along Lincoln Beach, a stretch of sand where swimming is hazardous due to severe undertow. Before the era of desegregation, Lincoln Beach was a prosperous community, since Blacks frequented their own establishments, but after integration their businesses failed as African Americans decided to spend their money at businesses owned by Whites. Meanwhile, middle class Whites bought property by Delrona Beach, a swimming beach, and opened businesses in town to cash in on the tourist trade, including a motel and café that still maintain an old-fashioned style but have adapted to the era of "hot sheets" weekends for singles. Each year a Buccaneer celebration occurs during the first week of May, but few tourists find the event sufficiently quaint to distract them from more attractive opportunities in Orlando and elsewhere.

Stressing the same theme that permeated Sayles's Limbo (1999), developers have purchased a portion of the island to erect luxury homes, called Exley Plantation, where the golfers live. With the county zoning commission in their pocket, the developers are determined to expand the development by pressuring the oldtimers, Black and White, to sell, telling them that property taxes will inevitably drive them out anyway. Similar to Sayles's Lone Star (1996), the slow-moving film focuses on personal relationships, mostly on shattered dreams among the less affluent. In addition, the story features the environmental damage wrought by the development, including a focus on out-of-state workers who are imported to bulldoze and re-landscape the newest parcel to be converted into luxury housing. The climax comes on a Monday after the close of Buccaneer Week, when the developers plan to clear land for the next phase of their project. While many townspeople show up to protest the action, TV cameras roll when a signal is given to a bulldozer to begin work. But the bulldozing unexpectedly comes to a complete halt, for the first scoop of soil uncovers bones of the indigenous Seminoles, so the land is taken over by government archaeologists. While the local people can return to life as usual, the out-of-towners head for the next project in which big money will seek to disrupt the lives of the less affluent somewhere else; the next destination for the landscaper is Las Viecas, Puerto Rico (which the U.S. military until recently used for target practice). Doubtless, when the landscaper arrives, John Sayles will be there to film his next epic. MH

The annual meeting of members of the Political Film Society will be held on Sunday, August 11, at 4 p.m., at 1215 ½ Seal Way , Seal Beach, California. The main agenda item is the election of the Board of Directors. All members are invited.