Hidden Secrets of the Florida Springs Director Bob Guiguere: ‘We wanted to share… these hidden treasures’

Posted by Daniel Salazar, February 10, 2018

Florida-based independent filmmaker Bob Guiguere sat down with us to talk about his new documentary Hidden Secrets of Florida Springs, a Cinema Verde official selection. Guigere will be giving an audience Q&A after the screening of his film on Saturday, February 10th, at 6:57 pm.

Bob Guiguere directed his first documentary after he began to work for a PBS affiliate in Maine.on a small island called Mount Desert Rock. “That started me down a path that I just have never left,” Guiguere explained. “I just loved the format and the genre of documentaries. It’s very creative.”

He eventually moved to a PBS affiliate in Orlando, creating programming for the station for 13 years. Then he quit.

In 2001, Guiguere co-founded an independent production company called Equinox Documentaries together with author Bill Belleville. “We decided that we needed to control our own messaging,” Guiguere said., “We were tired of raising money for other entities like PBS station and then having them decide what we could and couldn’t do on our programs.”

They have been making documentaries ever since, primarily focusing on issues related to water. Indeed, their newest film Hidden Secrets of the Florida Springs is about the cultural, historical, and ecological importance of the Florida springs. The film follows four main characters–former Florida governor Bob Graham, artist Margaret Tolbert, cave-diver Eric Hutcheson, and director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute Dr. Robert L. Knight–as they uncover the springs’ secrets, from breathtaking underground caves to the pollution that is threatening their health.

In this interview, Guiguere discussed his transition to independent filmmaking, the makings of Hidden Secrets, and his directorial approach to the film. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our Q&A.

‘[Becoming an independent filmmaker] was freeing’

What was the transition from working for a network like PBS to become an independent filmmaker like?

It was freeing only in that we raised our own money, which actually is a little bit challenging when that’s not your first skill. It allowed us to control a little bit more of our messaging. We were making our own decisions, without having third parties tell us we can or can’t touch on this subject because it may impact some funding in another area or something like that. This has happened to us in the past, so making that transition was kind of freeing in that now we could tell the stories that we wanted to talk about and not just what other broadcast entities thought would be interesting to their audience.

We just went and searched for stories that other people were telling, finding interesting new ways of telling stories about resources. We tend to like to tell stories that touch on what we call a “sense of place.” It’s about connecting individuals to natural places in Florida, helping them understand why it’s important to them rather than to be preachy about an issue and tell them why it’s important. We hopefully try to motivate our audience to find out how they are connected to the resource and how important it is to them.

Why did you decide to make Hidden Secrets of Florida Springs?

We thought what was going on with the springs, Silver Springs in particular. This was over four or five years ago when we started working on this project. The spring was an iconic Florida recreational destination, but it was under siege by people such as ranchers. It was degrading in quality. It was degrading in output. We just wanted to tell a story about why it was changing so much and how important it has been to Florida. We figured people would pay attention to it, so we thought we could tell the story of all Florida springs through a particular case at Silver Springs.

It turns out that over time that particular case study isn’t really more important than any of the challenges any of the other springs face. Telling the story of all the springs, at least for the people of Florida, they’ll get it, but for national distribution, people will recognize things like Silver Springs.

‘We wanted to share what we know… about these hidden treasures’

How did the film originally come about?

It grew out of a conversation. The board of directors of Equinox, and friends in the cave-diving community such as Eric Hutcheson, who is a major part of this film–we were just talking about what was going and we then crafted these ideas together to tell that story. I’ve been a cave diver since the 90s, so I knew Eric, and we decided that, yeah, let’s tell that story. We had the skill, the talent, and the resources to do it, so let’s go do it. That’s when we started putting all those ideas together.

We knew how to tell stories, and Eric knew the stories we had to tell deep inside these unknown areas. We wanted to share what we know with other folks in Florida who don’t know about these hidden treasures–these underground rivers. People will identify rivers in Florida from where they come out of the ground and where they go into the ocean, but they forget that even larger parts of these rivers exist underground, never seen. It’s a part no one knows anything about. We thought it was time to let them know.

What was the biggest challenge when making the film? The cave diving parts especially seem like they would be very difficult to shoot.

It was. Resource-wise, it’s very difficult. Most of us have other jobs. I’m a high school teacher, so we don’t dedicate every waking hour to do these things. We have to do it while we are doing other things to make a living. I think that’s true of all independent filmmakers.

And then, of course, it was a huge challenge to have the kind of resources it takes to go deep into those caves and try to bring back pictures so that people can see what we see. That’s stuff is not cheap, you know? You have to be highly trained. You’ve got to have access to these places. Access can be very difficult sometimes, as there are some of these resources that are public and others that are in private hands. Some of these people don’t want anyone to know what’s in their property for fear of regulation. So you’re dealing with a lot of access issues and resource issues in order to just bring back the story.

‘We wanted to make them feel like they had just uncovered something they had never seen before.’

You talked earlier about how much you love how creative documentaries can be. What was your creative approach when making Hidden Secrets, as an artist and a director?

There were a number of things. First of all, we had to think visually about how to recreate the beauty of these hidden places in the Florida springs to make viewers see the beauty of those places themselves, without me having to tell them it’s beautiful. We wanted to make them feel like they had just uncovered something they had never seen before. That was one of our first creative challenges: how do we take what I feel when I see that for the first time and recreate that for other people who have never been underground?

The second challenge was to show people who aren’t cave-divers what the aquifer is about. We found this very unique place called Ocala Caverns, and we took our four main characters underground so they could see what the aquifer looked like. There was a big dry place, and then there was the surface level aquifer with the big pool and spring, and then they could actually get underwater to see what it looked like. They get surrounded by this environment, and it creates a different kind of an impact. It’s impressive. You may have heard people talking about. You may have seen pictures of it. But when you’re there, it’s quite different. So that became kind of a showcase, a centerpiece. If these characters were going to talk about this resource in the documentary, but Eric is the only one who has seen it, let’s take the other three characters underground so they could see it for themselves.

The final challenge with that was that it was a completely dark environment and it was difficult to get in there. How would we get them down there, and how would we get all of that camera gear down, light it, and capture audio? How do we do that safely and come back with impressive pictures?

What do you hope will be the impact of your film?

I hope that they will understand that, over time, the springs have in fact defined what Florida is. We are known for water. Beautiful, crystal clear water, and it has meant something for people for multiple generations from the Native Americans who first settled around these springs. I hope that they understand that this importance has been reflected in art throughout the ages and generations. I hope they will understand a little bit more about the ecology of water–how important all this water is not just for us as a resource for drinking water and recreation, but for the unique landscape of Florida and the animals that live here. I hope they will understand how interconnected all of these things are to that resource–how we all connect individually and as a community, so that they will be motivated to stand up and protect it for future generations. Crystal water–that is what Florida is about.

Tickets for Cinema Verde are for sale here.


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