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Movie Review: Cracker Crazy: Invisible Histories of the Sunshine State

DVD cover featuring a painting a native American

A few weeks ago I reviewed a snappy little low-budget thriller by director Georg Koszulinski called Silent Voyeur that I praised in part because of its smart and clever writing and Georg’s ability to get a lot out of working with obviously very little. Cracker Crazy, the film Georg made after Silent Voyeur, is a completely different kind of film, but one that I was very impressed with for that exact same reason.

Cracker Crazy is a purely historical documentary on the odder parts of Florida’s history that takes a very different approach than other docs usually take with similar material. The visuals are about 99% found footage — there’s only a couple modern landscape images created by Georg. However, Georg wisely mixes up the way the information is conveyed in order to keep things moving at a snappy pace so that it never feels as if the film is getting bogged down with too much information. One trick he utilizes is having different narrators present different sections of the film; including himself, plus Lee Tiger, a Miccosuki Native American, and Silent Voyeur star Shamrock McShane; so you never get bored by one person’s delivery.

While I didn’t time things out, it feels as though the majority of the film focuses on the plight of the native Floridians as they were repeatedly conquered and wiped out by invaders. Not being a history buff myself, I don’t really know how “invisible” the stories Georg presents are. But I don’t think he’s aiming the film to hardcore histories, so the material here comes off being very fresh. I mean the basic high school history is that the Spanish settled Florida first before selling it to the U.S. and it’s really no secret that Native Americans were treated horribly. What we get here is just how shockingly horrible it all was. However, I don’t think Georg’s point here is to unduly castigate the “white man,” but it’s better to know the facts than live in fantasyland that it wasn’t so bad back then.

The film goes on about how Ponce de Leon searching for the Fountain of Youth was probably bullshit and he just arrived in Florida for Spanish conquest. There’s also a bit about the brutality of Hernando de Soto, but the real shock comes with Andrew Jackson’s forays into Florida territory where he went to find escaped slaves who were co-existing with the Seminole Indians. (I also learned how the term “Seminole” isn’t a Native American name, but one made up by Europeans to describe the natives as “wild men.”) After attacking an ex-slave fort and massacring the majority of those living there, Jackson cooked up a story with president James Monroe that the massacre was a retaliation for an unprovoked attack by the Seminoles. Yep, shades of the Gulf of Tonkin “attack.”

Once the Native Floridians were out of the way and Spain sold the territory, U.S. settlers came in to tame the wild land. These were the first “crackers,” and I was a little disappointed not learn the origin of that term. But I was surprised it was such an old one. So, moving into modern times the film explores issues of worker abuse by the United States Sugar Corporation, the travails of WWI veterans hired by FDR to build bridges to Key West during hurricane season (shockingly, a survivor is interviewed to give a first-hand account) and the adventures of the KKK in the state following the success of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.

If it sounds like I’m giving away most of the film here, far from it. This thing is packed to the gills with interesting facts, but never dull. Georg and his researchers did a really great job digging up a ton of great footage, from goofy outdated tourism videos to really outdated and goofy educational films, plus lots of great historical pictures of the cracker settlement era as well as drawings and paintings to illustrate the early clashes with Native Floridians. Really fascinating stuff.

More on this film: Filmmaker Site

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  • robin wilkerson says:

    I watched it today on the documentary channel (doc). I was raised in Belle Glade,Florida and still live here. I worked in the fields long ago and packed corn at a rate of 10 cents a box. The documentary was very interesting.

  • William says:

    A very good documentary. I also watched this on the documentary channel, and it was incredibly insightful. Charming, very “indie”, and just great! Good luck with all your future endeavors Georg!!

  • keith kaye says:

    The current ‘studies’ concerning Pres. Jackson and the Indian wars has been distorted. Jackson’s ‘crime’ in the early days? He despised the Bank of England and its agents in this country; he referred to them as “vermin”.

    The term “cracker” came from the fact that the early Floridians were proficient with the whips needed to herd and control animal stock. The “crack” of the whip created the moniker.

    The name “Seminole” translates to the word “runaway”. The Seminoles are not a Native tribe they were made up of a mix of the Micosuki and the Creeks who came from the Indian Nations in Oklahoma. They are the only tribe never to have signed a treaty with the US.

    The KKK was a product of the times following the Civil War. The Bank of England carpetbaggers who invaded the South after the war turned the negroes loose on the populations and the South was raped and ravaged. The Klan was in answer to Northern lawlessness and terrorism.

    The plight of the Native Americans has also been altered to meet politically correct standards of the day. The indians were cheated, don’t get me wrong, but the habitually dishonest British lured the indians into various wars she had with America and the indians knew full well there would be a ‘payback’ if they lost those skirmishes. The part of the carpetbaggers has also been lost in the modern rantings about the indians; the carpetbaggers were the agents doing the bidding of lazy, disinterested Northern politicians with the indians. So, with that said it wasn’t mainly the White man who did the indians wrong it was our favorite agents of the Rothschilds banking industry. There is more. A lot more.

    • Greetings All,
      I am a native Floridian, one of an endangered species. Mr. Kaye is correct on the origin of the term “cracker” and at least partially correct on the rest but factually mistaken. 1st let me introduce you to a definitive book with the answers and the facts to back ’em up FINDING FLORIDA: THE TRUE STORY OF THE SUNSHINE STATE by T.D. ALLMAN and a link: http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2013_nf_allman.html#.U62WVq1dXXEOrigin
      There is little distortion in the annals of the Library of Congress on Jackson and the Indian Wars, Mr. Allman gives an accurate accounting. Here is the definitive origin of the word “seminole” from Creek simanōli, simalōni, from American Spanish cimarrón ‘wild’,(as a noun) ‘escaped. Seminoles were a collection of more than the Miccosukees (proper spelling) and Creeks there were both freed and runaway slaves along with Caribbean islanders. As for the “…Indians were cheated…” or that their plight was “payback” is an understatement at least, please read the book and be edified. As to the issue of treaties the facts are that representatives of the Seminole tribes of Florida signed no less than 3 treaties with the US, links provided to all 3:
      It was the Miccosukees, not the Seminoles, that never signed a treaty with the US, link provided: htmhttp://everglades.fiu.edu/fiu/idh4007/pisani2.html They have a beautiful reservation in the Everglades right off Alligator Alley, I’ve been a guest there. Lastly the idea that “…carpetbaggers … turned the negroes loose on the populations and the South was raped and ravaged” as the reason for the KKK is just totally absurd and a misrepresentation of historical fact. CGC

  • Keith: Thanks for your comments. However, I probably approved them against my better judgment. We’ll see how long I leave it up. You really undo everything with your ugly 4th paragraph.

  • keith kaye says:

    I appreciate your consideration and I know how this all sounds.
    As a history buff for over 30 years I have uncovered many things that have been grossly exaggerated or just plain lied about.
    The influence of the Bank of England and her American agents begin with our war for independence and exist to this very day. The same family that owns all of the banks of the EU and the World Bank also owns our Federal Reserve Bank.
    The involvement of the bankers that cheated the indians thru the total disregard of our treaties are just not reported at all. The blame has been placed on the American government and its recordation is not complete nor is it correct.
    To give you another historical fact the United States was first incorporated in London, England, by the Bank of England in 1853. This gave rise to what we know today as corporate-governance. Abe Lincoln (if you saw the movie listed above you know this to be true) in a speech to Congress warned of “the rise of the corporations” and five days later agents of the Rothschilds murdered him. Abe was also going to abolish the unlawful practice called fractional reserve banking and that didn’t endear him to the bankers either.
    As I said, there is much more. Again, “thank you” for your indulgence; I do not mean to get you into any hot water but someone has to disclose the truth. keith