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Claus Mueller


Claus Mueller is filmfestivals.com  Senior New York Correspondent

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene, professor at Hunter University, accredited member of the Foreign Press Center,  U.S. Department of State NY.


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The Last Resort, 2018

 

THE LAST RESORT is a compelling documentary by Dennis Scholl and Kareen Tabsch. The film presents the  photographic work of Andy Sweet and Gary Monroe and  includes backstories about their lives. It is a persuasive study of the Jewish community in Florida’s South Beach. With background documentation and superb use of the extensive visual records of the Jewish community taken during the seventies by Sweet and Monroe in  color and black and white respectively, THE LAST RESORT provides fascinating personalized insights into the rise and demise of the traditional Jewish community in Miami Beach; from its infancy in South Beach to the fragmented and dispersed Jewish groups in Miami Beach today.

 

Until the end of the Spanish rule in the late 18th century no Jews were allowed to settle in Florida. When they began arriving there in the 1900s Jews faced systemic discrimination. Landlords and business owners posted “Gentiles Only”, “Always a View, Never A Jew” or “Restricted Clientele” signs on their properties as reported by Uriel Heilman. There were also residential restrictions. No Jews were allowed to live beyond 5th Street in Miami Beach. Laws outlawing discrimination and formally reducing overt antisemitism were not passed until 1949, a period when Miami Beach was but a small town, though it had already started attracting working class Jews to retire there. From that period through the early seventies there were many small hotels and inexpensive apartments which attracted Jews escaping from war torn Europe, including many Holocaust survivors that bonded though their shared experiences and a sense of Zionism. Mostly in their late sixties and early seventies, they provided the focus for Sweet and Monroe’s work. The 1970’s were the golden age for the Jewish community in Miami.  There are few images from that colorful period that reflect sadness or despair. At the end of the seventies, a different scene emerged, hotels were falling apart, growing isolation set in,  make shift prayer rooms did not have enough men for the minion, and sad faces became more common. With the Mariel boat lift Cuban refugees settled in South Beach accompanied by a rapid increase in crime and the drug trade with the FBI reporting the highest murder rate in the nation in Miami. In 1982 Andy Sweet was murdered, allegedly for being involved in a drug deal. Gary Monroe continued his photographic work but also recuperated and digitally restored Sweet’s images. Since 2016 several well-received exhibition have honored the achievements of Andy Sweet.

 

What impressed me most about THE LAST RESORT were the superb images of the members of the closely-knit Jewish community in their everyday life and festivities in the seventies. They come to life in their portraits because Andy Sweet demonstrates a spontaneous but compelling maturity. He showcases a paradise lost to the drug wars and gentrification.

 

Claus Mueller  filmexchange@gmail.com

 

 

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