Brooklyn is filled with transplants, but few have stories about their home that are as wild as Hayley Downs’ native Florida. And by wild we don’t mean drunken pool parties in Miami Beach. Her Florida is the gators on your lawn, armadillos in your backyard, “Orchid Thief” Florida you rarely see — even for a native Miamian like Julie Kahn, who together with Downs, is co-directing a hilarious and fascinating documentary called “Swamp Cabbage.”
“Central Florida was this mysterious, primordial place that we passed through on the way to Disney World,” says Kahn, who met Downs while working at a performing arts company in Miami. Downs invited her to a coleslaw wrestling contest near her hometown of DeLand — and the spectacle of large women fighting in shredded cabbage spurred them to explore the region in full, through the lens of Downs’ own tragicomic life experience. (That’s her with the gun, at her father’s hunt camp.)
The project has taken a few turns since they began collaborating in 1999 — like a multi-media show featuring Kahn’s photography (above and below) of Florida locals. But the end result is “Swamp Cabbage: A Dark and Sweaty Documentary,” which weaves together multiple themes. It’s a film about Florida Cracker culture (yes, there is such a thing, and it has nothing to do with rednecks or white trash), a diary film about love, sickness, and loss, and a documentary about our connection to the land and the food chain.
It’s also very funny. The two-minute trailer, filled with archival footage of sinkholes and drunken episodes, is genius.
Both women have produced their share of shorts, but this will be their first feature-length film. Together they’re financing it through a variety of creative means, like a wild game tasting fundraiser Sunday, March 8 at HUGS in Williamsburg.
Along with raffles for prizes like gift certs for Huckleberry Bar and Cafe Steinhof, they’ll be serving the kind of grub you’d find at any wild game feast in Florida: fried gator, venison chili, quail and wild boar sausage. There’ll also be a “jerk off” jerky tasting led by Matt Rubiner and a few non-meat options for the squeamish and the veggies. The point is to make it accessible to the community. “It’s a recession-era fundraiser,” says Downs. “You give what you can to support the project.”
Sadly, there will be no Swamp Cabbage. Its main ingredient is the heart of the Sabal Palm, Florida’s state tree, which is now endangered — one of the many ironies of the movie. It’s still in production, but donating online or at the party (where you can see the trailer live) will help git ‘er done finally.
Sent by Nicole. Top photo courtesy Hayley Downs; “Dove Hunt” and “Hog Meat” by Julie Kahn.