The Last of the Sawgrass Cowboys
In a classic battle of competing interests, gladesmen and their airboats are being banned from Everglades National Park in the world's largest attempt to restore a damaged ecosystem.
Directed by David Abel
Produced by David Abel, Andy Laub
Editor: Andy Laub
Writers: David Abel, Andy Laub
Original Soundtrack: Andy Laub, Scott Cumpstone, Alexis Kesselman
Gladesmen: The Last of the Sawgrass Cowboys is an award-winning documentary about the federal government's ban on Florida's iconic airboats in much of the Everglades. The measure is part of the world's largest and most expensive effort to repair a damaged ecosystem, a vast river of sawgrass and cypress swamps that has been ravaged by more than a century of development, pollution, and other environmental degradation. The outcome will determine the future of the region's water supply and its ability to withstand rising sea levels. It may also lead to the demise of the Gladesmen, who for more than a century have hunted alligators and gigged frogs, sought peace on isolated tree islands, and taken refuge from the ever-increasing development that has carved up the Everglades.
"Deftly reveals larger fissures in American society through the examination of how folks from all sides stake their claims to American wildlands." Bernard L. Herman, Professor, American Studies, UNC at Chapel Hill
Other films by David Abel and Andy Laub are Lobster War and Sacred Cod.
Grade Level: 10-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2018
Copyright Date: 2018
DVD ISBN: 1-948745-05-4
"Gladesmen presents the conflicted flashpoint of deeply contested ecologies around the culture wars over access to Florida's Everglades in the era of climate change and sea level rise. The film deftly reveals larger fissures in American society through the examination of how folks from all sides stake their claims to American wildlands. Inflected with nostalgia, worry, anger, affection, condescension, indignation, and righteousness every voice in Gladesmen clamors in a cacophony that masks the deeper divisions that threaten to drown us all. Gladesmen creates a compelling teachable moment around a singularly American political discourse."
Bernard L. Herman, Professor, Department of American Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
"Gladesmen offers rare insight into a community long-associated with the Florida Everglades, though now pushed to the margins as conservation efforts become increasingly exclusionary and critical to the ecosystem's long term survival. The film offers no easy answers, instead providing a thoughtful platform to explore the consequences of environmental restoration and protection to those who call this landscape home. A great film for environmental studies classes, while its engaging story and vivid imagery would appeal to a much broader audience."
Dr. Laura Ogden, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Dartmouth College, Author, Swamplife: People, Gators, and Mangroves Entangled in the Everglades
"Great movie - GLADESMEN shows the ever-present conflict between the needs and desires of modern society and those of old-time culture."
Lee Clarke, Professor of Sociology, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
"Gladesmen provides a striking portrait of the few remaining gladesmen and women whose families for decades have plied the Everglades sawgrass for sustenance and the freedom of riding the wind through the River of Grass. But it also tells why their uninhibited lifestyle must change as the south Florida ecosystem succumbs to a century of human attempts to 'tame' this dynamic water-driven region. Gladesmen provides a focal point for appreciating the cultural and environmental impacts of an ill-conceived manipulation of nature for short-term gains. Its perspective is challenging and will undoubtedly lead to much classroom discussion."
Dr. C. Kenneth Dodd, Jr., Courtesy Associate Professor, Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida
"Gladesmen is a kaleidoscope of the lives of those men, women, and children who live full-time within the Everglades and how they contribute to Florida and the rest of the nation...This film demands that the National Park Service now create a compromise, just as it did in the founding of the Big Cypress National Preserve, and support its Gladesmen today, just as the Gladesmen supported the Park in its hour of need 40 years ago."
Richard Weisskoff, Professor and Chair of International Studies, University of Miami, Author, The Economics of Everglades Restoration: Missing Pieces in the Future of South Florida
"Eye-opening, poignant and captivating...The film carefully balances a sympathetic portrayal of embattled Gladesmen - airboaters threatened by the federal government's recent decision to block their access to Everglades National Park - with a searching discussion of the effort to restore the ecological health of the Everglades. The storytelling is both engaging and enlightening, and there is much to learn here."
Raymond Arsenault, Professor of Southern History, Founding Director of the Florida Studies Program, University of South Florida, Co-editor, Paradise Lost? The Environmental History of Florida
"Recommended...Change as a constant is a theme throughout and viewers are left with feeling that these filmmakers documented Gladesmen lifestyle in the nick of time."
Bonnie Jo Dopp, Educational Media Reviews Online
"A nuanced and balanced look at a controversial Everglades restoration decision...The film humanizes the involved stakeholder groups, from conservationists concerned with long-term disruption to natural flow paths, to Native Americans for whom the value of airboating is both cultural and practical, to multi-generational families for whom the Everglades is the core of their identity...The film provides a warning of deeper repercussions, showing how a decision such as this can turn groups of people otherwise naturally aligned with a mission of conservation against the institutions tasked with Everglades restoration. I found the film an enjoyable and thought-provoking experience and wouldn't hesitate to use it in a classroom setting or among friends to stimulate discussion."
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Scene selection and SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
Awards and Festivals
Made in Miami Award, Miami Film Festival
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital
GlobeDocs Film Festival
Monadnock International Film Festival
Canes Film Festival
American Film Festival (Poland)
Key West Film Festival
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="right">Dr. Laurel G. Larsen, Associate Professor, Geography and Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Berkeley