I was fortunate enough a while back to write reviews for both of Georg Koszulinski’s films Cracker Crazy and Silent Voyeur. Silent Voyeur was actually a plot driven horror film of sorts that I absolutely loved and Cracker Crazy was a look at the darker history of the Sunshine state of Florida. Immokalee USA is more in line with the latter film as once again it is a look at what might be considered a darker side of Florida with a focus on migrant farmworkers and their hand in the Florida state agriculture. Although, as it turns out, Immokalee isn’t such a damning film as I was expecting. Much more than just some kind of inside look at legalized slave labor (which the film hints at, but does not really show) it’s a film more focused on the family lives of these people who have left their own countries in search of work and prosperity. It shows a very tough and hard road that these people follow, but it also shows the unity of family and the strangth of relationships. The film depicts what seems like a modern day The Grapes of Wrath, with men getting up in the early mornings and searching for work – people cooling themselves off with box fans instead of air conditioners and apparently few with television sets or phones and only basic utilities. For those who have each other, things are bearable. However, for those without anyone the effects of being in such a strange place with nothing to turn to can be intensely damaging to the psyche. As is the case with one of the most interesting people in the film, a man who came to the states looking for work but keeps getting turned away and being that he came along he feels lost and feels that his countrymen have turned their back on him and treat him as an outcast. The scenes where he breaks down in front of the camera are absolutely soul-crushing and the portrait of this character, amongst many of the others in this film, take it from being just an interesting documentary to something truly great. There is a family pushed to their limits, where the mother slaves tirelessly over a stove all day in order to sell her food at a local carnival and make roughly sixty to eighty dollars, who explains to us the audience just why people make the track here and what happens to those who find their solace in alcohol instead of work. Then there’s the American woman in charge of the local soupkitchen (and possibly in charge of the living quarters of many) who apparently works as a teacher to the children, an interpreter and a bookkeeper amongst probably a dozen other titles, who seems incredibly kindhearted. The children, especially this one sweet little girl who speaks perfect English explains how her mother has told her when she gets older she will either work at McDonalds or at a store of some kind – but she doesn’t want to she says, because it seems hard. Such a heartbreaking moment that her mother could have such expectations, or dare I say "hopes" or "dreams", but one just has to hope that the daughter realizes her own potential when she gets older and realizes that there are better things for her than that.
I would certainly say Immokalee is Koszulinski’s finest work so far from what I have seen. He paints this vivid picture so foreign to our eyes as Americans that it could very well be happening in some other country if it weren’t for the American head farmer who pops up throughout the film who gives his thoughts on the illegal alien labourers that he hires out and how they have helped so tremendously in keeping his farmland going. Although this man isn’t painted as a villain at all, and a lot of the things he says are true, but you have to question his rationality when it comes to this subject. He says Americans simply won’t do the work, but in actuality the problem is most Americans won’t work 12 hours shifts of hard labor in the sun for under minimum wage, whereas those who are looking to make a better life for themselves elsewhere won’t need as much money as they would paying for a full home here in the states as well as all the perks we are so spoiled to. Politics really aren’t central stage in Immokalee USA though and I think that’s one of the best things about it. It’s a lot easier to point fingers (as I so blatantly did just one sentence ago) but it’s another thing to simply tell the story. Tell it without laying blame, but letting the audience form their own opinions. Koszulinski was much more fare this time around than in his previous Cracker Crazy, and when dealing with real human emotion he delivered a truly powerful piece of filmmaking that simply should not be missed.
The cast of characters in Immokalee is a large one, but turns into a film with a singular voice and a film with a lot to say. Just watching it, you wish desperately there was a simple answer to help out everyone involved. Although there is no simple answer, we can all learn from the film and help to better understand those from distant lands who travel here and are looking for a better life no matter how meager at times. There are those who capitalize however and make the best of such situations. I have a couple of guys I consider friends who come into my store every now and then, they’re originally from Mexico but came here for such simple reasons but in post-Katrina Louisiana were able to make a very nice living for themselves and made an even better life for themselves back in their home country. It can happen, and the future is always open for any person willing to dive in headfirst and I know that from firsthand experience. Immokalee shows us some downtrodden characters and those who have found strength and carry own faith in themselves and that they are doing the right thing. This truly is an outstanding piece of documentary filmmaking and I cannot recommend it enough. Certainly one of the best independent films I have seen this year. Koszulinski is an exciting filmmaker and doesn’t look to be slowing down in his growth and prowess. For more information on the film you can visit SubStreamFilms.com, and I’m telling you now – check this film out.