White girls in bikinis twerk in the beds of mud-covered monster trucks. Confederate flag decals compete with Trump stickers for bumper real estate. Everywhere across the swampy Florida backdrop, people are guzzling Bud Light, shouting and driving trucks through waist-deep mud.
This is the scene Brooklyn-based filmmakers Sam B. Jones and Andrei Bowden Schwartz encountered in 2015 on their first excursion to the Redneck Yacht Club, one of the world’s largest mudding events held several times a year in Punta Gorda, Florida. The directors made the trip on a lark after watching a few YouTube videos and finding themselves sucked in by the little-documented world of mudding, a pastime which involves drinking copious amounts of beer and driving big trucks through Florida’s swampy wetlands.
“We were just like, ‘What is this? Why do people do it?’ And we couldn’t really find anything satisfying or enlightening,” Jones, a Ditmas Park resident, said. “So we just went down there, and our minds were blown by the imagery we saw, and how big this culture was that we knew very little about.”
The pair didn’t know that the trip would be the first of many, or that four years later the resulting footage would become their first documentary feature, “Red, White & Wasted,” which is set to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 25.
Early on, Jones and Schwartz had some trouble blending in with the locals. On their first trip, they rented a car instead of a truck, got stuck in the mud almost immediately and had to be towed out. But Jones said their big city naïveté had a disarming effect which worked in their favor.
“People were like, ‘Clearly you’re not from around here. I guess you’re not a threat. Sure, we’ll talk to you,’” he said.
And talk they did. A large chunk of the filming took place just before the 2016 election, and many of the mudding diehards seemed eager to espouse political beliefs on camera which most people wouldn’t admit to in private. Jones and Schwartz realized that the culture of mudding offered a unique angle on the disaffected Americans propelling Trump to the White House. After the election, producers began to see it that way too, and funding for Red, White & Wasted started falling into place.
“It was in Florida, the mother of all swing states, and this Redneck Yacht Club was like a de facto Trump rally. I think that’s what helped people see that this is more than just a few trucks in the woods. This is connected to larger themes in our country,” Jones said. “In a weird way, we got lucky with that.”
That’s not the only way Jones and Schwartz lucked out; through the Redneck Yacht Club, they were eventually introduced to Matthew Burns, AKA “Video Pat,” an amateur filmmaker who’s been documenting mudding for decades, and who gave Schwartz and Jones access to his extensive home video archives.
To say Pat is passionate about mudding would be putting it mildly.
“One of the first things he actually said to me was, ‘I think my obsession with mudding caused my divorce,’” Jones said. “So to find a guy who loved it so much that he was willing to admit to a stranger that it had these negative effects on his life, that was pretty compelling to me.”
The directors zeroed-in on Pat and his family as the film’s primary subjects. Pat lives on the outskirts of Orlando and makes his living scavenging scrap metal, an example of life on America’s economic fringes which feels almost too on-the-nose.
The film shows Pat and his daughters wrestling with the issues you’d expect: poverty, insecurity, powerlessness and irrelevance, and the racism and xenophobia which so often follow. Through a series of highly intimate vignettes, we see them at their most darling and their most deplorable. The confusing mixture of empathy and revulsion which these subjects elicit is sure to make a Tribeca audience at least a little bit uncomfortable.
“There’s some inherent value in sitting with these conflicting feelings,” said Jones. “I think it’s important and difficult to see someone you might perceive as your enemy or an idiot as also a human being. That’s hard to do, and it doesn’t even necessarily feel very good, but I think there’s something important about trying to do that.”
Red, White & Wasted premiers on Thursday, April 25, at the Village East Cinema as part of the Tribeca Film Festival. For screenings and tickets, go here.