HE correspondent Moises Chiullan is raving about David Modigliani‘s Crawford, which screened last night at Austin’s South by Southwest. It’s “about much more than the major change felt initially in this small Texas town when George W. Bush first moved there in 2000 a few months before the election,” he writes, “and it’s more than you get out of a trailer or a quote from a friend. In fact, the municipality of Crawford, Texas itself is a lot more than it may seem like at first.
“This movie is more than a chronicle of events and humorous anecdotes, or an examination of what directionsmall-town America went in during these last eight long Bush years. This is a movie about the future, and the film’s relevance is even greater considering the pivotal role of the recent Texas primary and the still-uncertain picture regarding the Democratic nominee.
“The intellectual elite (high-thread-counters, in Hollywood Elsewhere parlance) may have it stuck in their heads that small towns across the country are full of ignorant, tobacco-chewing pro-Bush morons, a complacent idiocracy. Many saw the 2004 election map as straight up red and blue thanks to the arcane effect of the Electoral College on our voting system. But Modigliani’s Crawford presents it as definitely a purple town, and make the case that we’d all be surprised how often this is true in what are considered ‘rural’ communities.
“The Crawford locals portrayed in the film include a woman who owns a Bush merchandise shop and a Baptist preacher who prays for the day Bush will visit his church, expected types you’d see in ‘Bush Country.’ They also count among them anti-war activists who founded a Peace House and kids who completely defy the stereotype of their small town by not ‘chewing grass and wearing boots.’
“There are good ol’ boys who as ‘good ole’ as they come but don’t fall in line with the crap others buy on Fox News each night. They know Bush only gets outside with a chainsaw to get at some cedar trees when there are cameras on him and they wish he’d pick up more of his trash.
“A more important examination is the town’s rise and fall, evinced in the 74 minutes that the film runs.
“The beginning of the Bush years in Crawford begins a local economic boom. Every storefront on the main street is rented, and the town’s former glory many recall comes back. As the years wear on, we approach the point where the country began to implode, and once it does, it’s kind of surprising how bad things turn out until you remind yourself that George W. Bush invaded Crawford before Afghanistan or Iraq.
“For me, the most pivotal story and relationship present in the film is shared by Misti Turbeville (a progressive, liberal history teacher), and a young man who became one of her pupils during those years named Tom Warlick. Tom went from believing everything he was told to searching out his own truth and standing up for it.
“Tom goes through years of being picked on and emotionally crucified just for having his beliefs. One day he went to school wearing a homemade t-shirt that read ‘America, Your Hands Are Bloody’ listing the military casualties of most of the U.S.’s major wars. I grew up in north Texas. I didn’t make one of those shirts, but I know what just having that opinion is like, and it isn’t pleasant.
“In the film, Warlick leads what I consider to be the epitome of the young ‘examined life’: the kid who does like Walk Whitman urged and tore the pages out of the book of life that offended logic, reason, and decency and blazed his own path. Teachers like Mrs. Turbeville are the reason guys like him make it through the bullying and the intimidation.
“During a post-screening q & a, Misti remarked she thought Crawford ‘has matured like the nation has matured,’ which I took to mean that whether or not everyone is more open to the idea of thinking about and doing things differently, they know it’s time for the new direction toward progress that Tom represents.
“I’ll say that you should take care reading other reviews that may ruin seeing the movie yourself. This is a movie that should not be spoiled for anyone.”