There are certain terms that will immediately garner a strong reaction. Gentrification and redneck are two of them. One refers to the loss of something important to America while the other is usually used an example as something that is wrong with it. The two words share little in common. Red, White, and Wasted is a documentary playing at the Chattanooga Film Festival. It follows Matthew Burns, also known as Video Pat. The mudding enthusiast is struggling to make ends meet. The closing of his favorite mudding hole (Swamp Ghost) is the start of a spiral he may not be prepared for.
The documentary is an examination of an ignored group of people. What makes it different from similar films is the subjects are a oft-vilified group. Of course, not every white person is racist. Every one interviewed in Red, White, and Wasted seems to be, however. They fit every stereotype from outrageous pro Donald Trump chants to literal dumpster diving. This may be the biggest issue with the documentary.
Directors Andrei Bowden-Schwartz and Sam B. Jones have found a very interesting subject. As Florida continues to grow, more tourists come to the state. This leads to more attractions being built and more neighborhoods being torn down and redeveloped. Red, White, and Wasted finds subjects that are trying to cope with the changing country. They look fondly back in the past and wonder why the government seems to have forgotten about them. There is the reality of a whole group of people and their identity being lost.
The problem becomes when it becomes apparent that some of these ideas should be tossed away. The people Red, White, and Wasted focuses on drop racist and homophobic terms casually. They are fiercely anti immigrant (in their words, they just want to be “left alone”) and own up to all the derogatory stereotypes that come with the term “redneck”. Their is a flawed sense of pride in what they believe in.
Despite the strong message in Red, White, and Wasted, it is hard to listen to its subjects and impossible to root for them. The directors seem to want the audiences to pity them. For example, the Burns family deals with many struggles over the course of the film. The documentary seems to be saying what they think is bad, but they are having to deal with a lot also. This is seen most in Video Pat’s two daughters. They are openly racist but say it has nothing to do with hate but their heritage. In other words, they know it is wrong but are unwilling to change.
Video Pat has an interesting character arc. He is obviously hurt by the loss of Swamp Ghost. Over the course of Red, White, and Wasted he is clearly reevaluating his life. He seems most committed and interested in changing. Everything culminates in a trip to the Redneck Yacht Club. It is similar to the mudding holes Pat loved in his youth. What Pat sees cause him to re-examine his life, though not in the ways expected.
Red, White, and Wasted seems to be unsure as to what it wants to be. Instead of being a condemnation of a lifestyle it sensationalizes it. It also is not a celebration as the narrative also wants to explain why what the audience is seeing is wrong. This is confusing and frustrating to anyone who watches. It is also unfair to a family that has bared everything on film and has been made to look like they are stuck in the past. There is a good story here; it just gets lost in the mud.