doc­u­men­tary, 90 min­utes, not rated, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - RANDOM ACTS -

Semi­nole tribal leader James Bil­lie is a tough-as-nails Re­nais­sance man who smashes through life’s ob­sta­cles. Us­ing stun­ning never-be­fore-seen archival and home-movie footage, di­rec­tor An­drew Shea paints a re­veal­ing por­trait of Semi­nole In­dian life be­fore and after the rise of casino gam­ing. As a “half-breed,” Bil­lie was an out­cast at birth; his mother pre­vailed against tribal el­ders who wished to see her in­fant drowned. Dur­ing his teens, he be­came an al­li­ga­tor wrestler, earn­ing $300 a day. Watch­ing him wres­tle down the rep­tile dou­bles as a per­son­al­ity re­veal: teenage Bil­lie was ag­ile, fear­less, and a shame­less show­boater. After two tours of duty in Viet­nam, Bil­lie re­turned to the Ever­glades as a war hero, ris­ing to the ranks of tribal chief. In­ten­tion­ally or not, the film cap­tures the 1980s SoFla vibe: At one point Bil­lie men­tions us­ing his mil­i­tary back­ground to train tribal mem­bers to track down co­caine traf­fick­ers who used the tribe’s iso­lated Ever­glades roads. In­ter­spersed through­out the film are mu­si­cal in­ter­ludes from Bil­lie, who has recorded sev­eral coun­try-blues rock al­bums — his 1999 song “Al­li­ga­tor” was nom­i­nated for a Grammy.

Heed­ing the Semi­nole’s history as the only tribe to never sign a treaty, Bil­lie opens a bingo hall in Hol­ly­wood, Florida, in 1979, legally out­ma­neu­ver­ing the state’s en­raged lead­ers. Through the use of news­reels, in­ter­views with the law en­force­ment of­fi­cers who failed to ap­pre­hend Bil­lie, and sev­eral jour­nal­ists who cov­ered the story that gripped south­ern Florida through­out the 1980s, the film suc­ceeds in con­vey­ing just how au­da­cious In­dian gam­ing was to the non-In­dian pub­lic. Dur­ing Bil­lie’s 22-year ten­ure as tribal chair­man, Semi­nole mem­bers went from rags to riches. In 2007, the tribe bought the Hard Rock Casino em­pire for just un­der a bil­lion dol­lars. The tribe’s ranks swelled, thanks to the du­bi­ous ar­rival of “div­i­dend ba­bies” pro­duced by the ro­man­tic unions of out­siders who mar­ried tribal mem­bers. But when Bil­lie learned tribal lead­ers had been skim­ming tens of mil­lions of dol­lars, he was fired by the tribal coun­cil and re­turned to a hum­ble life, build­ing tra­di­tional chic­kee huts by hand. Proud and de­fi­ant, though, Bil­lie will get his redemp­tion in the end. — Casey Sanchez Jean Cocteau Cin­ema, 5:30 p.m. Fri­day, Oct. 21; 3 p.m. Sun­day, Oct. 23

Wrestling Al­li­ga­tors: The New Semi­nole Wars

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