Documentary director Sean Dunne explores fascinating but often over-simplified subcultures in his films. He first got attention several years ago with American Juggalo, shot at the Insane Clown Posse’s famously lawless annual festival Gathering of the Juggalos. He has since made films about the effects of a West Virginia town’s Oxycontin epidemic in Oxyana and African-American bikers in South Carolina for the short Black Bike Week. After a quiet 2014, he is now set to release the feature Cam Girlz through Vimeo On Demand as a $5 download this Valentine’s Day.
Dunne also just uploaded his free film Florida Man to Vimeo. At nearly 50 minutes, Florida Man is a strangely meditative journey through the parking lots of the often-ridiculed state. The New York-based director and his skeleton crew hit the road and spoke with the type of men who often show up in the weird crime stories from the state that are giddily shared as Facebook links or late night monologue jokes. But Dunne didn’t make this movie to ridicule Florida or these people, he wanted to convey their perspectives on the world. He does so with guerilla-style, but strangely intimate, interviews. Here Dunne talks about making the film and the place Florida holds in our national imagination.
Co.Create: How did the Idea for Florida Man come about?
Sean Dunne: I lived down in Florida for the better part of high school and college. I had a lot of experience with these types of people and it’s kind of how I got started in filmmaking. When I first got a video camera I would go around and talk to these people on the streets. I never really did anything with it, but it really got me in touch with a certain vibe that was going on down there. Flash forward 15 years later and here I am. I tripped out on mushrooms with my cinematographer and my producer one night and we started talking about Florida and dreaming about it and romanticizing it and we said, “Let’s go make this movie. Let’s make a movie called Florida Man and see what that would look like.” What you’re seeing is a result of a crazy 10-day blur of a road trip.
What part of Florida did you go through?
It was mostly Central and South Florida. It was more cities than I could even name because we didn’t spend much time in any one given place. It was half a day in Largo, half a day in Orlando, Inverness, Ocala, Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral, up to Gainesville… We were really all over the place. We were in a sea of parking lots and neon lights and that’s where we found our inspiration.
How did you pick which people to talk to?
It was kind of just us going about our way and if we saw something interesting, we’d stop and we’d film it, whether that was a person or a thing. We would just ask people, “We’re making a movie called Florida Man, do you want to be in it?” Sometimes they’d see us filming something and they’d approach us.
What is it about Florida that makes it so… fascinating?
Growing up in New York, I always thought of Florida as a bastion of hope—the warmth, the palm trees—there was romance to it for me. When my family moved down there, I realized that it was just like any other place. A lot of people have moved there with big plans that just never came true. This film really shows the manifestation of both that and what it’s like when you’re living in a police state—what you’re treated like when your thought of as a criminal from a young age and put in the system and how it impacts your life and where you end up and the attitudes you end up with. You’ve got a state that is looking to lock up and throw away the key on some of these “disposable parts of society,” and you have a place where a lot of people are going to start over. It’s this crazy mix of things going on there that is so beautiful and so reflective of this country as a whole. A lot of people make fun of Florida, but I like laughing along with it, because I know the place is just a microcosm for the rest of this country. I could have gone and made this movie anywhere else, it’s just that it’s so damn ubiquitous down there.
You said you lived in Florida 15 years ago, how much has Florida changed since then? Or has it changed at all?
It’s hard for me to say, because I only go back three or four times a year, and it’s in a vacation-type sense, but honestly it doesn’t seem like much has changed. In an anecdotal way, there’s a lot of music in this movie in the background, but the newest song in the whole thing is Guns N’ Roses’ “Mr. Brownstone.” There is a certain kind of retro feel when I go down there, where it still feels like 1998, but that might just be my subjective opinion because I lived in Florida in 1998.
In the first segment of the film and in some of the other parts, it feels like you’re in a dicey situation and it’s unclear how things are going to go, like they might turn violent in a second. Were you constantly on edge?
Yeah, we were feeling that. It can happen very quickly down there. I was visiting about a year or two ago and I was singing a karaoke. I came off the stage and this guy shoved me with his shoulder. I was about to get up in the guy’s face. Then a song later I look over and I see him standing at the bar holding a gun up. A perfectly normal situation can get out of control really quick, and we were fully aware of that.
One really interesting segment of the movie to me was of the two guys who don’t know each other—one who’s in his car and the other guy who has a newborn son at home—and they start talking about corruption in Florida. At first they’re kind of challenging other, but they seem like they might find common ground, and as a viewer you have no idea how things are going to go.
That was the typical interaction you’d see. When Florida men interact with each other, it starts off like, “We’re going to fight each other,” and then it needs to be slowly amped down. All the conversations had this intensity to them. Seeing them interact really speaks to the prevailing attitude down there, which is to right off not trust somebody and to assume they’re digging around for something bad.