25 July, 2014

Review: "Last Stop, Flamingo" (****½)

A scene from Georg Koszulinski's "Last Stop, Flamingo"

Few American states produce as distinctive an image in the world's collective mind as Florida. Texas, yes. Hawaii, yes. California, yes—but perhaps a few different images correlating to the different regions. Florida, definitely—the sunshine state, palm trees, white sands, beach bodies, South Beach, and so on. It's these exact images that filmmaker Georg Koszulinski steers clear of in "Last Stop, Flamingo"—without making the audience feel as if he has actively avoided them. Of course, plenty of archival footage of decades-old Florida ad campaigns and sweet diary-like vignettes from Koszulinski offer glimpses of the white sands, skylines and beach fun that you expect from anything Florida. Thankfully, though, the film offers a much more unique vantage point—acting as a View-Master to the reel of Florida's most forgotten, most eccentric and most personal histories.

"Last Stop, Flamingo" is the third installment in a trilogy of Florida films from Koszulinski—a feat I most especially admire, as perhaps the biggest fan I know of my own state. The passion behind the project feels as complete and fresh as it would coming from a first-time filmmaker, yet alone someone who has already delivered two related works. It's the juxtaposition of Koszulinski's personal history and investment in Florida to the historical evolution of the state that makes "Last Stop, Flamingo" so compelling. The examination of the failed attempts by the Koreshan Unity and Golden Gate Estates to transform Florida are as striking as the the actual change—cultural and ecological—that has taken place in the state over time. All of this provides a new way to see the land, one that the Florida Board of Tourism would never include in a brochure. Koszulinski experienced the state differently as a child—with the same wonderment that Florida bestows on all children—but now sees the texture beneath the sheen.

Whether though his own narration, other voiceover exposition, on screen text, historical footage or the beautiful animation by Kelly Gallagher, "Last Stop, Flamingo" explores several different ways to engage the audience, just as it explores the 'far side' of the state. Bluegrass-tinged music is probably not what most people associate with Florida—whether they are expecting Reggaeton, EDM or Jimmy Buffet—but it fits the film like a glove.

Koszulinski ends the film with Kodacrome footage of a sunset at Flamingo, located at the southern tip of mainland Florida and still one of the state's most remote locales. With the realization that this is potentially the only place in the state that likely still looks as it did 500 years ago when Ponce de Leon discovered it, the film strikes a chord. In perhaps his most poignant statement, Koszulinski reminds us that even the flamingo—a longtime perceived symbol of the land—is really just another tourist in Florida.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

"Last Stop, Flamingo" is screening on Saturday, July 26th at Beep Beep Gallery in Atlanta as part of 'La Florida: Personal histories of the Sunshine State' by Contraband Cinema. Find out more information here.

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