Talking about Sarasota’s beauty, history, rich arts and cultural scene, captivating beauty, and tales of the rich and famous is easy. For most, the influx of tourists and people dying to step foot on “The World’s Best Beach” is tolerable.
Crowded roads and your usual “in and out” businesses being over-run are an annoyance for sure, but the necessary boost to the economy is appreciated. Retirees who put the brakes on Sarasota’s pastimes as a thriving live music haven are frowned upon, yet, also looked up upon as they mostly inhabit the high-rise condominiums, giving them a view of Sarasota, from the top.
But what about the working class, who, at the core of it all, are keeping the industries thriving with loyalty to their employers, a generous heart toward the service of needy customers, and a love toward Sarasota? Generations of people have lived in Sarasota, and a financial disparity has existed for some. And what about the teenagers who have grown up in such an opulent area, where money really is key to happiness in many circles. For some, an interest in the forgotten, rundown, ugly-yet-beautiful sites around town have beckoned them to be handlers of a message for people to see Sarasota in an unordinary, funky, real, and remarkable way.
Premiering at the Sarasota Film Festival this year is “Sarasota Half in Dream.” A film by two locals, Derek Murphy and Mitchell Zemil, who sought out surreal and innovative sites around Sarasota, not from a chamber of commerce pamphlet point of view but as teenagers finding their way amongst the condo commandos and straightlaced rulers of the downtown decibel levels. They have narrated a peek into the hollows and highs of Sarasota, from a young person’s perspective, seeking out haunting and artfully tragic locations around picturesque SRQ. You can see “Sarasota Half in Dream” on April 1 at 5:30 P.M. and April 2 at 1:15 P.M. For more information, please visit http://sarasotamovie.com Photos credit of Sarasota Half in Dream Facebook page.
Below please find our interview with filmmakers Derek Murphy and Mitchell Zemil, representing Sarasota from a unique and individualized perspective, with their creation, “Sarasota Half in Dream.”
Did you both grow up in Sarasota?
D: We both grew up in Sarasota. I’m a proud graduate of Riverview High School’s IB program.
M: I was born and raised in Sarasota, and I attended Pine View grades 2-12.
What were your childhood/teenage experiences here that prompted you to do the film?
D: In my teen and young adult years, my friends and I spent a lot of time exploring Sarasota’s margins — sneaking into abandoned buildings, walking Siesta Key all night, exploring random stretches of wilderness on the edges of industrial parks… There’s not a lot for young adults to do in this town. You can take in an opera, you can go to the movies and see a tender drama about unexpected romance in old age, or you can occasionally see a scrap of live music before the noise ordinance shuts it down. We had to invent our own fun. Our adventures started as a way of killing time and enjoying each other’s company, but they gradually came to mean much more. We were doing a flânerie sort of thing — strolling around parts of Sarasota that most people never see. All of this gave me a sense of the city as a magical realist sort of place. We kept running into beautiful sights that straddled the line between mundane and otherworldly. I’d been reading a lot about the original Paris Surrealist group, and their conception of Paris really reminded me of how my friends and I were thinking about Sarasota. At the time, I was also studying film in college, learning about early City Symphony films and about personal essay-documentaries like Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg and Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil. I wanted to share my experience of Sarasota with others, so I decided to make a film about the city that piggy-backs off of these rich traditions in film and art history. It’s a view of the city that differs dramatically from typical touristy depictions of the place.
How did you decide on locations for the different scenes?
D: This film is sort of like a travelogue or a safari through some of Sarasota’s more bizarre spaces. Most of the places we filmed were spots my friends and I just happened to wander into and took a liking to. Some of them came to me through rumors passed along from friends-of-friends: “There’s an abandoned factory by the airport that used to carry radioactive waste!” “There’s a specific section of shoreline at South Lido Park that’s always completely covered in hundreds of crabs!” “Someone told me about a suburban subdivision where they paved the streets but never actually built any of the houses!” We tried our best to follow through and locate these places. Some of the rumors were false (that factory had polluted the well water, but there was no radioactive waste lying around), and some of the places were missing. But we did actually find some very cool stuff that way, and some of it is in the film. We also found out about some great locations from an urban exploration blog run by a fellow calling himself Shyguy. He would post photos and videos of these places, and even include tips on how to get in. His blog was so interesting that we even ended up interviewing him in the film itself.
How long did it take to shoot the film and how did you finance the project?
D: It took FOREVER to make this thing! We started shooting in 2012, and we got our final shot some time in 2015. And of course, then there was all the editing… The film only had a crew of two people – Mitchell and me. Both of us were busy with work and school, so work on the film had to stretch out to accommodate our schedules. In 2013 we ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund the film. Our goal was $2,500, an absurdly low budget for a feature. The campaign was a success. In the end, we raised $2,644 from an extremely generous bunch of friends, family, and strangers. We used the money for a number of things – equipment, sound recording/mastering, and even film festival submissions.
M: We got our last shot – the final shot of the film, on New Year’s Day 2016. By the time we’d completed our final cut that year, the film was four and a half years in the making. Even though the Kickstarter campaign helped immensely, a lot of the film’s budget came from our own pockets. In fact, most of the film was captured on a DSLR camera I won for my high school short film at the Sarasota Film Festival in 2011, so to be back there to premiere our film feels “full circle” in a very poetic way.
Did you work with city officials, or were they aware of the film?
D: That’s a “no” on both counts. This was an act of complete guerilla filmmaking, just showing up with our cameras, getting our footage, and getting out. We looked into trying to get aid from the city, but there wasn’t really anything that fit what we were trying to do.
M: The incredibly small size and scope of our production meant that the mayor’s office had little to offer for us. If you’d seen us while filming it would have looked like two kids with a tripod just capturing pictures for an art project, and in a sense, it was.
With all the wealth in the area, and the disparity that goes along with that for some, do you find many young people feeling “left out” of the Sarasota scene? What do you think can be done to make Sarasota a more inclusive area?
D: For people in our age bracket, Sarasota rarely offers affordable housing, good jobs, or much of a social life… Between the ages of 19 and 35, there’s a total demographic void. It’s hard to live in a city where you can’t find anyone your age! Most of the people I know in my age cohort love the city, but can’t stand being there for too long. The city just doesn’t seem to want us around. It often feels like the people who run the place only listen to rich, old, white condo owners. That’s why the city is still so racially segregated, it’s why live music is de facto banned, and it’s why we’re famously terrible to the homeless. I’m not a politician, and my film is not a political manifesto — I don’t have a prescription for fixing all of this. But I hope that someday the city will recognize the needs and desires of people under 35, and people who make under $350,000 a year. This place does offer one hell of a lot of aesthetic value. Everyone can enjoy the beach, the lovely climate, the strange beauty of an abandoned golf course. That’s what keeps me coming back despite my frustrations. And don’t get me wrong: I love Sarasota. The film is (for the most part) a positive portrayal of the city. But we all get frustrated with our hometowns now and then.
M: I’ve noticed downtown has made attempts in recent years to cater towards young people with “cool” venues for food and drink, but I feel like the young people who live here are mostly working very low level jobs or come from wealthy families in the area. If Sarasota wants to attract young people, there needs to be more work for them here that they can use their degrees for. Beyond that, the city advertises itself as a place for vacations and retirement, which is good and all but a lot of people my age don’t have the time or money for either.
What was the process of getting into Sarasota Film Festival?
M: We submitted our film online – same as any other festival. While it seems straightforward that a film about Sarasota, made by two Sarasotans, should be an easy pick for the festival, there’s a lot about our film that makes it generally hard to put in a festival program: it’s a documentary without a strong “cause” backing it. It’s experimental, and it’s very different from most films you’d seen in a festival. That said, we’re both proud and humbled that the movie, as personal and strange as it is, is being given a chance to be shared with a broader audience at the film festival. It’s an immense honor.
D: The SFF was the first film festival I ever attended, and it’s truly mind blowing to have the opportunity to screen my first feature film there.