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This Land Is the Director's Land

Want a real taste of America? See the country through John Sayles' earthy films. Authenticity gahr-own-teed.

June 16, 2002|MARSHALL FINE | Marshall Fine is film critic for the Journal News in Westchester County, N.Y., and national film correspondent for Gannett News Service.

With "Sunshine State," John Sayles continues his movie tour of America: Call him the Fodor's of filmmakers.

Talk about going to extremes: Since 1996, the writer-director has set films in Texas ("Lone Star"), Alaska ("Limbo") and now Florida (with a stopover in Central America in "Men With Guns"). "Sunshine State" opens Friday.

Think of Sayles' films as dramatic travelogues, in which the settings are as much characters as the people who live there. Marketing being what it is, it's only a matter of time before someone hits on a scheme to assemble the John Sayles tour for cinematic Americans. It would probably go something like this.

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Return of the Secaucus Seven (1980): Welcome to small-town life. No, not in New Jersey, where Secaucus is, but in New Hampshire, where two main characters are hosts of a reunion of college pals (who were once arrested in Secaucus en route to an antiwar march in Washington; hence the title). Nestle into a house for a weekend gathering: playing charades, acting out old impulses and indulging in plenty of recreational drinking. Basketball with the townies and recriminations about ancient personal history also pass the time.

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Matewan (1987): In the scenic West Virginia mountains, you'll find yourself sleeping in coal miners' tents and shacks, and defending your life while trying to uphold the dignity of a growing union movement. Get the feel of the dirt beneath your nails--and over your head--in our authentic coal mines. Talk about extreme vacations: Wait until you experience the adrenaline rush as you distribute pro-union pamphlets while battling anti-union goons and struggling for the dignity of the working man in the face of corporate evil. Non-struggle tours also available.

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Passion Fish (1992): We gahr-own-tee you'll love our special zydeco stop in a Louisiana backwater. It doesn't matter whether you're recovering from a crippling accident or a crippling addiction: The small-town atmosphere of this remote Cajun locale will shift your focus from the blackened state of your existence to the brighter side of life. Ladies, take advantage of a plentiful supply of local men, with personalities so calm and nurturing they should come with a prescription.

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Lone Star (1995): Spicy multiculturalism is the order of the day in this scenic, if remote, stop on the Texas-Mexico border. Check out our Wild West Days pageant, offering insight into our racist past, followed closely by NAFTA Days. Archeological digs daily, sure to unearth evidence of old crimes. Border patrol ride-alongs available. Find out why we're all one big happy family in this little corner of Texas.

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Limbo (1999): Got an itch for the last frontier? Or just want to hide from something? Then head for Alaska, where you'd be amazed at how easy it is to get lost in a threatening environment. Watch your back: You never know who to trust, and it's hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. That's just part of the fun in America's unexplored tundra--at least until the oil companies are finished with it. One-way wilderness trips available by boat or plane.

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Sunshine State (2002): Long a land of dreams corrupted by greed and opportunism, the new Florida is highways and seafood, souvenir shops and easily developed swampland. Avast, matey--this is pirate country, whether you're talking about Capt. Kidd or the modern-day land grabbers looking to build that next big gated seniors' community. And the locals? They're as feisty and common-sensical as you would hope. Don't forget the sunscreen.

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