Brevard Libraries director to screen his film at local festival
By Amanda Hatfield Anderson
BREVARD -- After three years of dedication and careful planning, Jeff Thompson is ready to share his masterpiece with film lovers everywhere.
On Friday, Sept. 6, Mr. Thompson will be on-hand for the screening of his 41-minute documentary film "The Florida Suite," which will be the last film screened during "Matinee Magic," at the Melbourne Independent Film Festival. Screening for "Matinee Magic," a block of seven short films, begins at 3 p.m. at Premiere Theaters Oaks Stadium 10.
"The Florida Suite" follows the life of retired Brevard County attorney Andrew Graham, who lives in a log cabin on a citrus grove.
"The idea for 'The Florida Suite' came about after my father built a small log cabin in the middle of his 12-acre citrus grove, located near the headwaters of the Indian River," said Mr. Thompson, who serves as director of the Brevard County Public Libraries. "Here, he retired from his law practice and devoted himself to the growing of citrus."
Mr. Thompson added that, not long after moving into the cabin, Mr. Graham brought his mother to live with him, as she was beginning to show signs of Alzheimer's disease.
"He believed it would be better for her to live in the beautiful and safe environment, rather than an assisted living facility," Mr. Thompson added. "He made this decision fully aware that he would be her primary caregiver, but unaware of what that truly meant."
Because of his father's sacrifice amid the natural splendor of the citrus grove, Mr. Thompson was moved to tell this story.
Despite making personal films for more than 20 years, "The Florida Suite" will be Mr. Thompson's first public film.
"I've been a film-lover since I was a child, and my appreciation of film was enlarged when I discovered art films in college," Mr. Thompson said. "I began to experiment on my own with Super-8 film, but film is difficult and expensive to work with."
For a period of years, Mr. Thompson chose to take up a less expensive art form -- writing; however, his love for film never left him.
"I eventually bought a Mini-DV camcorder and editing software and began to make short films again," Mr. Thompson said.
Also inspired by music, Mr. Thompson said that he often closely links his films with music.
"The Florida Suite" is without dialogue.
"The decision to go largely dialogue-free was driven by my own artistic preference to create a poetic film, rather than one that explained itself," Mr. Thompson said. "I wanted my audience to feel the life in the grove, as opposed to hearing about the 'why' and 'how' of it all."
While in the planning stages of "The Florida Suite," Mr. Thompson was struck by Robert Flaherty's "Louisiana Story," blown away by its lush images and beautiful music.
Hoping to tell his stories in a similar fashion, Mr. Thompson began looking for a fantastic score that would mirror the beautiful images of the citrus grove.
"I wanted something about Florida, and I remembered hearing, many years ago, a piece called the 'Florida Suite' by Frederick Delius," Mr. Thompson said. "I got a CD of the music and knew immediately upon listening to it that it would be perfect for the film."
Mr. Thompson explained that, over time, he realized Delius' "Florida Suite" should be the structure for his film, thus making "The Florida Suite" a four-piece movement, and even taking its title from Delius' work.
"I hope that people discover Delius from this film," Mr. Thompson added. "He came to Florida in 1884 and was so moved by the beauty of this place, that he became a composer. His first major piece was the 'Florida Suite,' which he dedicated to the people of Florida."
Like with any project, Mr. Thompson faced a range of challenges while filming "The Florida Suite."
"Once I had convinced my wife that I wanted to make the film, the main challenges were money and time," Mr. Thompson said. "As public library director, I had very little money for the movie venture and the only crew was my wife and collaborator, Joyce Wilden, and our friend Melinda Lohr."
Taking a week off from his job, Mr. Thompson and his crew began the main shoot for the film, and continued to shoot other scenes on Saturdays.
"This meant that we had to be careful with continuity, making sure my dad wore the same clothes for every shooting day," Mr. Thompson added.
One thing he could not control was the grove itself, as it changed from week to week.
Another challenge Mr. Thompson faced was funds.
"Money was a problem, but the film cost much less than I originally anticipated, thanks to the advent of Digital Single Lens Reflex camera," Mr. Thompson said. "I'd planned to shoot in 16mm, as video was still a poor substitute for film in 2009, but when video-capable DSLRs came along, I was blown away by the quality of the image."
Mr. Thompson did his homework on the range of DSLRs available and purchased a Canon DSLR, guilt-free.
After much planning, Mr. Thompson began filming "The Florida Suite" in February 2011, with a small assemblage of tools including his DSLR, with one lens, a tripod, a stabilizer, some reflectors and a small recorder.
"Joyce and I later sold some gold jewelry to get a shotgun microphone, blimp and pole," Mr. Thompson added. "Later, we had to buy a new computer to handle the HD footage, and our biggest expense was the final one -- purchasing music rights."
Since completion of "The Florida Suite," Mr. Thompson has received a bevy of accolades for his documentary, including a nomination for "Best Cinematography" and "Florida's Film Gem" award at the Treasure Coast Film Festival, an "Honorable Mention" from the International Film Awards Berlin and a nomination for "Best Short Documentary," along with "Best Director of a Short Documentary" from the London International Film Festival.
Mr. Thompson said that "The Florida Suite" is both a personal and a universal film that connects -- or reconnects -- modern audiences with a way of life, whose rhythms are synchronized with nature.
"'The Florida Suite' is about the inherent dignity of caring for the things and people you love, and the understanding that aging and slowing down allows for a revelation of life's greater truths," Mr. Thompson added.
"People should see 'The Florida Suite' because it captures the beauty of a Florida that many have never known, and it will strike a chord for all those, who recognize the beauty of life lived close to the land," Mr. Thompson said. "For local folks, this is the story of us -- the real Florida."
Admission to the screening of "The Florida Suite," as part of the "Matinee Magic" block of seven short films, is $5. Tickets may be purchased at Premiere Theaters Oaks Stadium 10, prior to the show.
Premier Theater Oaks Stadium 10 is located at 1800 W. Hibiscus Blvd., Melbourne.
For more information about "The Florida Suite," call (321) 426-5833 or visit www.facebook.com/TheFloridaSuite.