Florida Man is the world's worst superhero. At least that's the running joke on the internet, where Twitter accounts exist just to collate all the bizarre news coming out of my beloved home state. But if you ask people on the street there—you know, actual Florida men—they'd have no idea they were something of a cultural phenomenon. That's what Sean Dunne did while making his new documentary Florida Man, and he found that they were some of the most open, friendliest people you'll find anywhere.
Last year, the guerrilla filmmaker traversed Interstate 4 and stopped in places like Cocoa Beach, Clearwater, Inverness, and Ocala with a four-person crew. With no agenda in mind, he simply asked people on the street if they had any words of wisdom. Rather than be put off, he found, Florida men just rolled with the idea of having a camera crew in their faces for a few minutes. It didn't even phase them.
"It gave me a sense that they do a lot of wild shit and see a lot of wild shit, and it was nothing in comparison to what their normal days are like," Dunne told me.
The resulting doc, which you can watch for free on Vimeo, is 50 minutes of cinema verite chock full of jorts and malt liquor. Its characters live in trailer parks, hang outside of Waffle Houses and ride their bikes to liquor stores because they have DUIs. And it's not what Dunne calls "cookie-cutter, PBS-style bullshit"—there's no narrative arc here, no lessons learned or epiphanies reached. It's just people saying whatever they want, in the process challenging the viewers' assumption about marginalized peoples.
Dunne himself was—briefly—a Florida man. At 15, his family was struggling financially and his father was battling personal demons. Dunne and his three siblings were approaching college age and had no way to finance an education, so they left their native New York and sought to reinvent themselves in a state that grants full scholarships to students with decent GPAs.
It was in the suburbs of St. Petersburg that Dunne first started fiddling around with a camera. "I would go out and bullshit with people, and they really inspired me," he says. "There's beauty in the mundane down there."
Since then, he's been fascinated with subjects that most people treat with classist indifference—like Juggalos. He found the best way to combat judgment and prejudice is to just let people talk without prompting them. And while his goal is to promote acceptance, it also helps him as a filmmaker that these people who are scorned by society at large are also eager to be heard. "There were characters everywhere, and they were very natural storytellers," he says. "I think their desire to talk to me came from, 'Nobody ever asks me what I'm up to.'"
These characters include a guy with a blown-out bellybutton and a pit bull who once got stabbed by a couple who thought he had painkillers, as well as a Bible-toting man with a yellow pallor to his skin and a ton of True Detective–esque wisdom. "Time is a circle," he offers. "We all came from stardust." Others do curls with tallboys and still more sip them inside bus stations or outside laundromats. In fact, most of the characters are some point on their way to drunk, an unavoidable but unproblematic fact for Dunne, who finds booze-soaked ramblings inexplicably romantic.
"I'm not looking down on these people, and I actually envy their looseness and commitment to living a certain type of lifestyle," he says. "That's so foreign to people in New York, who think you're a piece of shit if you're not getting up every day and grinding it out and trying your hardest." He was particularly impressed with how one guy described taking several naps a day and by a man who went by Mr. Sexy Cocoa Beach and recounted a threesome he once had on some dock rafters.
"I look at this and I see myself, and I hope the viewer does too," Dunne says. "When I talk to these people I know I was a few decisions aways from being that person—and that's not necessarily a sad thing. These guys have a different idea of what life's all about, and maybe we should listen to them."
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