Square Grouper: Godfathers of Ganja
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2011
I've been waiting to see "Square Grouper" since I first heard that Billy Corben (Cocaine Cowboys 1 & 2, Raw Deal) was directing the documentary. I became a Corben fan with "Cocaine Cowboys" and I've enjoyed all of his documentaries so far. What Corben does so well in his documentaries is that he infuses current footage and interviews from the actual people involved in the "crimes" with older archived footage and news broadcasts. These factors give his films such a realistic and edgy feel, not to mention authenticity provided by the first-hand sources including the "criminals", police, lawyers and FBI.

Knowing Corben's style, I went in to this film expecting "Cocaine Cowboys" with marijuana. This film is different though. It presents three separate stories, all set in the state of Florida (naturally, being a Corben film). The main difference in "Square Grouper" is that the pace isn't as fast as "Cocaine Cowboys". Much more mellow, yet still informative and imaginative. I find this fact very befitting the subject matter (or should I say, substance matter?).

The first story is about The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, who believe that marijuana is a sacrament, and the ensuing smuggling charges dropped on them. This part of the film examines the government's stand against a church centered around ganja. The media labeled them as a cult, they saw themselves as nothing but a church. Inevitably, the police become involved. The film begins with a verse from the Bible: "Behold I have given you every green herb bearing seed..." (Genesis 1:29) and I think this is a very important thing to consider for people who are against legalization (if you are a religious person).

The second story is about The Black Tuna Gang, who smuggled marijuana in massive amounts into Florida, or so the courts and FBI want you to believe. The film features the principle smugglers and FBI agents giving conflicting stories about alleged jury tampering, the Black Tuna gang's plans to flee, and even a phony plot to assassinate the judge in the trial. The Black Tuna Gang were dealt extremely harsh prison sentences, and this portion of the film tells the story from all viewpoints.

The third story is about the small town of Everglade City and the process of the citizens being practically forced to get into the marijuana business for much needed money. The tales tell of how easy it was to smuggle and hide drugs into the town, due to being able to evade the small police force in the swamps of the Everglades. To me, this is the most interesting part of the movie.

The film is accompanied by Country-type music, which I found to be a little off-putting, but otherwise, this is a fine documentary if you are interested in the topic, and I know that lots of people are. Billy Corben said himself that "hip-hop fans MADE 'Cocaine Cowboys'." I feel it should be noted that the music in the film will not grab the "hip-hop crowd" like "Cocaine Cowboys 2". Myself, I like all kinds of music, with the exception of popular country, and the country type music in this film didn't ruin the film for me, so don't let the music become the focal point of your viewing of this film. I'm not saying hip-hop music would be appropriate for this documentary, I'm just saying that the music won't appeal to hip-hop heads, many of whom are big fans of "Cocaine Cowboys 1 & 2". But like I said, I didn't find that it detracted from the film. It was just... off-putting.

The special features on the DVD include a short "Touring Ten Thousand Islands" featurette, deleted scenes, songs and scoring of Square Grouper (and music videos), along with feature-length commentary from Billy Corben and a trailer for the film.

So, while it may not be as exciting and fast paced as "Cocaine Cowboys", Billy Corben continues his successful streak of gripping and interesting documentaries. Highly recommended for heads, and I would also recommend this film to folks who are adamantly against legalization. It may open your eyes, or you could just be entertained by people getting busted if you're that kind of person. Either way, I think you can't go wrong with "Square Grouper". An important documentary. 4.5 stars.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 28, 2011
In the 1970s, Floridians called the many bales of pot that were adrift in the ocean "square grouper." The new documentary, Square Grouper, tells three different stories about Florida's 1970s pot culture. The three stories are good - but vary in quality.

The first concerns the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, which started when a hippie traveled to Jamaica in search of pot. Eventually, this led to a network of hippies who claimed the herb as a sacrament. They bought a huge house in Miami Beach (to the consternation of their neighbors) and appeared on "60 Minutes" in 1979. This story is amazing - you can't make this up.

The second vignette was the sole disappointment. It concerns a group of pot dealers known as the Black Tuna gang. The former dealers are not contrite (about dealing, planning to "take care of" a judge, and trying to bribe a juror). In fact, they blame all of their problems on a government vendetta. The story is interesting, but I didn't like the Black Tuna people.

The final story sets the film back on course. Deep in Florida's backwaters lies the tiny fishing village of Everglade City. After the local fishing industry collapsed, many of the townspeople became involved in transporting pot; in fact, so many became transporters that - at one time - 80 percent of the men in the town were in the corrections system. Again, there are good stories - particularly about how the good ol' boys spent the money that they made dealing.

While I'm not crazy about the Black Tuna segment, Square Grouper is well worth watching.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2013
Helps show that the "war on drugs" is an absolute joke and a failure. Many of these non-violent offenders did decades of prison time for a PLANT THAT GROWS IN THE WILD. The first group of smugglers portrayed, Coptic Church, were letting the children smoke their weed and thus should have been prosecuted for this over anything else but overall, the remainder of the people were just ordinary folks with families that certainly did not deserve the treatment they received by a worthless government agency (DEA).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I was there, this is true, and crazy, and just what it was like S. Fla, was a smugglers dream. This should have been legal since the 70's. You can feel what it's like to be a pirate.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2013
The documentary takes you through a time in history that many have forgotten, a time when a group used religion as means to attempt legalization of marijuana, a time when other groups took advantage of a black market drug. Very enjoyable to see the 70's and 80's from this director's perspective.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2013
Extremely educational flick. Your not going to be on the edge of your seat for this one but rather sit back,relax and enjoy some fine film making.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2012
I live in South Florida now and had heard of these days. The documentary was extremely interesting and reflects how very different those days of drug smuggling were than the violent, deadly world of today. It would appear to me that these guys got the shaft, and no one ever came to their rescue.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2011
This is the three pronged tale of Marijuana Smuggling in South Florida. The Movie is a classic Billy Corben (Cocaine Cowboys, The U) documentary. He is a Miami native and a graduate of The University of Miami.

This, to me is part of Corben's documentaries giving Florida a much needed unique identity. Not just the vacation place for New Yorkers,or a drug state (despite the two documentaries!). Obviously this is not what the movie is about, it is about the stories of 3 communities in South Florida and how they brought in dope, and how it affected them and their communities. He starts in Miami with Ethiopian Coptic Church, a very country part of the Everglades City that was dramatically changed economically by the enterprise and the Black Tuna Gang. The reason for the title is revealed in the movie if you do not get the reference.

If you are interested in drug trafficking, South Florida, good documentaries or Corben's work, you HAVE TO watch this.
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on November 8, 2014
Man, I thought it was a solid 3. The title caught my eyes as I have a couple friends that lived around Miami when they still called it Groupers but there www. A slight color change :). Anyway getting back to the movie I thought it was good, those goods write certainly moving some product for back in the day wow, that was a lot, then and now. You know they talk about legalization and all that and I don't think any of those dudes were ever armed, no shoot outs. At the end it was sad to see those older dude pull those long federal sentences holy cow, least they wetter under the old system so they had parole not like the new system of 85%. But still non violent first time offenders and they throw away the key, that's what made it tough.but I think they did a really good job putting it together, it's worth a look if you want to see how that stuff used to come in.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I came to Florida in 1975 and knew of the existence of grass and it's usage
but I never imagined it was so prolific. I found the video amusing, informative,
educational and funny. Loved every minute of it and have shared it with
friends who were more involved at the time. The video is definitely a keeper
for my library and for posterity. Those were the days. Oh Yeah.
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