The Origin of the Film

The seeds were planted in May 1999 when Hayley Downs and Julie Kahn, both second generation Floridians, intrigued by Florida Crackers, interested in Slow Food, and dismayed by the paving of Florida, decided to document Hayley’s father’s wild game feast in DeLand. As we began to trace the sources of game to wild boar, alligator and rattlesnake hunters, we discovered a near-secret community intimately connected with the disappearing primordial Florida landscape. We branched out from there when we realized the potential of the project not only to amplify the voice of an under-explored and often-stereotyped region, but also to address broader contemporary issues of conservation and community.

The project took an unexpected turn when Hayley’s father was diagnosed with an untreatable cancer. The news eclipsed everything Hayley thought was important and yanked her out of a wild, drug-fueled, hard-partying life in Brooklyn and back to Florida to help care for him. In the last months of his life she used her camera to make sense of her crumbling personal world by obsessively filming the events unfolding around her.

Over the same period, Julie relocated to a derelict orange grove with funding from the Florida Humanities Council through the NEH to document Florida Crackers and their disappearing connection to the land and the food chain. The first phase of the project, Swamp Cabbage: Cracker Culture in a Fast Food Nation, culminated in a multimedia exhibition and wild game tasting where families from all corners of Florida traveled to Miami to cook food they had harvested themselves from the wilderness such as: wild boar sausage chili, soft-shell turtle stew, quail in wine sauce, sour orange pie, and of course, swamp cabbage. Swamp Cabbage: a dark and sweaty documentary is the second phase of this 10+ year project.


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