Documentary Flick: Square Grouper
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Rakontur’s director/producer team, Billy Corben (LEFT) and Alfred Spellman
For a capper, the spotlight turns to Everglades City, a small village on the edge of Everglades National Park, whose fishermen embraced the weed trade fully, zipping in and out of the area’s mangrove labyrinths, scooping up the illicit square bundles whose nickname gives this film its title. In the end, a police dragnet sent 80 percent of its adult male population to prison. No criminal masterminds here, either: “I’m not a fugitive, I’m just Dave.”
Everglades City fishermen-turned-marijuana
smugglers, en route to prison
The contrast with the murderous thugs and sociopaths of Cocaine Cowboys—the duo's 2006 film about Miami's blood-soaked cocaine trade in the ’70s and early ’80s—is hardly subtle. This convinced Corben and Spellman to act as politicos as much as documentarians: They’ve been using Square Grouper’s nationwide screenings over the past month (as well as the publicity for its April 19 DVD release) to push a campaign of marijuana decriminalization.
Corben, who helped fund last year’s unsuccessful legalization referendum on Miami Beach, insists, “We need to start having a real conversation about drugs that actually kill people—like Oxycontin. We’re kicking in doors on grow houses in Kendall, but people are lined up around pill mills in Tallahassee like they’re serving Guthrie’s chicken wings.”
Spellman strikes a more hopeful note. “It feels like the mid ’70s, with medical marijuana now legal in California and Colorado,” he muses. “Jimmy Carter got elected on a decriminalization platform, then he got distracted by inflation, stagflation and the entire Iran hostage crisis. Thirty-five years later, we’re kind of in the same place we were in 1976, on the cusp of seeing a complete change in attitude.”
Indeed, the warmly romantic sheen Square Grouper drapes over its old-school smugglers is hardly accidental. “The drug and its effects really reflected the business, and dictated the types of people who were involved in it—as well as the level of violence.” Or the lack thereof. “We were dealing with mellow people,” Spellman chuckles.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY MATEO GARCIA (PORTRAIT); COURTESY OF RAKONTUR (STILLS)