CRACKER CRAZY is a fascinating, often tragic look at the dark side of Florida history. It details the bloody "explorations" of the Spaniards (who murdered and enslaved the indigenous people in the name of conquest), the costly Seminole Wars (which were as much about recapturing escaped black slaves as they were about land rights), the tragic fate of Henry Flagler´s railroad bridge to Key West and the World War I veterans who were working on it when a devastating hurricane struck (after being denied money they were owed for military service and offered the difficult work so the government could save face), and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Writer-director-producer Georg Koszulinski combines archival footage and new material (shot on grainy, Super 8mm film) to explore these and other largely forgotten elements of the Sunshine State´s storied past. His efforts paint a bleak, somber picture of America´s southernmost territory.
Koszulinski deftly weaves bits of his personal experience into the narrative, and his love for his home state is evident despite the largely negative connotations of the events he chronicles. He visits historical sites with his relatives, discusses briefly his own memories of childhood, and even ponders with considerable sadness the inevitable geological reality that his hometown of Miami will someday be submerged in the ocean. Though he demonstrates little love for many of the revered figures in Florida history whose crimes have been erased by the tide of time, he does labor to give credit where credit is due in regard to their tenacity and their positive contributions to the state´s growth. The end result is a melancholy film that captivates with surprising facts but at times seems more intent on invoking begrudging acceptance of truth rather than sparking activism and reform. It is as if Koszulinski has come to the realization that, like history, human nature cannot truly be changed, no matter how hard we work to whitewash it.
The biggest problem with the film comes when the gifted auteur presents assertions that, because of his own ideology, he fails to back up with significant evidence. For instance, he takes a brief detour from the plight of the Creek Indians to discuss Walt Disney´s ties to Nazi Germany and states that Disney "did not like Jews", but presents no quotes or detailed accounts which corroborate the latter notion. Claims of Disney´s anti-Semitic views are not new, but a documentary filmmaker challenging the reputation of a beloved American icon has a certain responsibility to avoid the assumption that his suppositions are "common knowledge" and present hard proof. Similarly, the chapter on racism cites a report claiming that thousands of black votes were thrown out during the 2000 Presidential Election, but no explanation is offered for how the investigators determined the supposedly anonymous ballots were cast by non-white voters. When citing this controversial election as an example of continuing racial discrimination in the southeast, it would be prudent on the part of Koszulinski to cover the event with a bit more attention to detail.
CRACKER CRAZY is an effective piece of documentary filmmaking, exposing ugly truths and uncovering hidden horrors without lapsing into full-fledged rhetoric and propaganda. Compelling and thought-provoking, it is a worthy addition to the DVD library of anyone with an interest in regional American history - even if, at times, it tells only one side of the story.