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Case Number 16552: Small Claims Court

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Immokalee U.S.A.

Substream Films // 2008 // 77 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roy Hrab (Retired) // June 8th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Roy Hrab has never liked tomatoes.

The Charge

Being an account of migrant farmworkers in the U.S.A.

The Case

Immokalee is located in Collier County, Florida. According to 2000 census results, Immokalee had a population of 19,763 with approximately 40% living below the poverty line (the state average was 12.5%). During "peak" season, the community has a migrant worker population in excess of 20,000. These, mostly Hispanic and Latino, workers pick fruits and vegetables for low wages. Many live in poorly maintained trailers propped up on cinderblocks or shacks, waking before dawn with the hope of being chosen to board a bus that will take them to a job in the fields.

Immokalee U.S.A. is about these migrant workers. Who are these people? There's the old man who plays the guitar and reminisces about being a rancher in Mexico. A struggling single mother who had a child die of cancer which she believes was caused by pesticides from the farms. A despairing and somewhat delusion migrant who has been out of work for weeks; he spends all his cash on broken pay phones trying to reach his brother, breaking down into despair when he finally contacts him. He becomes so depressed that he refuses to eat. There's a wife who prepares meals for her husband at 4:30 AM and sells food to migrants for extra income. In contrast, there is a tomato farm owner who states that migrant workers are absolutely necessary to harvest his crops because "Americans" refuse to work at such menial jobs. Last, there is a volunteer at the community soup kitchen, who tries to instill hope in the many people who rely on the daily meal to get through the day.

The film jumps back and forth between these personalities. And that is all it does for this is a documentary without any obvious structure or message. There are stories, but no narrative. People talk to the camera, but they are not interviewed. There is no sermonizing about injustice. And almost no context aside from the information volunteered by the subjects being filmed. These people are not formerly introduced and there names are never given explicitly, except on a couple of instances when one slips into conversation.

The result of these images and stories is an oddly captivating and occasionally gut-wrenching film. It's difficult not to have sympathy for these harder working people who earn next to nothing to make sure the rest of us have food. It's even harder to watch a man crumble to pieces over the embarrassment and humiliation of not being able to find work.

Yet there's something missing here. There's no doubt that there are a lot of people working at dead end jobs not just in Immokalee, but also all over the United States and the world. At the same, where would these people be without these jobs? Better or worse off? Should something be done to help these people? The film provides no answers, or even raises such questions. The camera just rolls, roaming from person to person without rhyme or reason. This completely detached approach leaves the film lacking a raison d'être. What is one supposed to take away from this account? Is the purpose to raise awareness? Spur people to take action? Illustrate the unpleasant realities of the economic system? None of the above? All? Nothing is hinted at. To be clear, I'm not looking for Michael Moore activism and demagoguery, but rather than launching headlong into the material, some context would be welcome.

The audio and video are serviceable. The video is presented in full screen format. The picture quality is probably a little above average for a no budget documentary shot using handheld cameras. Not excellent, but not terrible. Daytime scenes are fairly well defined, but night scenes are poor. The sound is presented in Linear Pulse Code Modulated (LPCM) audio. The dialogue and a spare, haunting banjo soundtrack are clear.

There are no extras.

Immokalee U.S.A. is an absorbing look at America's migrant underclass, but lacks an agenda to anchor the audience. Anyone can get operate camera and film what they see, but it takes skill to make a point.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 78

Perp Profile

Studio: Substream Films
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• PCM 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
• English
Running Time: 77 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb
• Immokalee: Wikipedia

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