When I tell someone I’m from Florida, I usually receive a smirk and a crack about the internet meme “Florida Man” in response. I get it. Florida is a weird place full of flip- flops, alligator-skinned old ladies and bad tattoos, but when people mock it I can’t help getting defensive. To me, there’s so much more under that kooky surface. The state is a jumbled, sensitive place of untamable wilderness and inherent complexity.
I found myself back living in Florida not long ago and wanting to make a film that took on that idiosyncrasy. Driving from my parents’ house on the A1A highway along the east coast, I stumbled upon the Daytona Beach Drive-In Christian Church. At first the idea of sitting in a car to go to church seemed deranged to me. What could be more vacant of spirituality and human connection than going to church sealed off in the most alienating of American inventions, your car?
I decided I had to go to a service. I was surprised to learn this wasn’t some kind of fly-by-night operation — the church has been offering services from the convenience of your car since 1953. As I spent more time with the members of the congregation, my thinking about the bizarre place started to slowly shift. I realized that many of them had very personal motivations for attending a church like this. Some were debilitated by illness and found the easy accessibility of the space a plus. Others had lost a loved one and wanted privacy as they mourned. A few more just wanted to attend service with their pets. Whatever their reason, they were all seeking some form of comfort and strength in one shape or another.
I filmed at the church over three Sundays, and you see footage from all three days in the film. On the last Sunday, when the pastor gave a sermon about the insidious nature of technology and the divide it creates among us, it echoed deeply for me. What I realized in making this film is that in many ways, we’re all just sitting, isolated in our own experiences with the windows rolled up and the air-conditioner blasted on high, wondering why we have trouble connecting with our world and the people around us. I felt just as complicit in my own isolation behind the camera as the church-goers in their cars, if not more so — I was, after all, filming them, trying to make a film about the human experience, but really hiding behind the trusty shield of my “observational” camera.
As I’ve traveled to film festivals with this short, audience responses have run the gamut. Some people think it’s the strangest thing they’ve ever seen, others think it’s absurdly funny (after one screening a man asked if I usually “edit comedy”), still others come up to me to thank me for my treatment of the drive-in church and its congregation. I always have the sense, though, that people want to know what I really think of this place.
For me, the drive-in church represents a microcosm of what we each struggle with every day: trying to connect with one another and with our environment despite our increasing, technology-fueled isolation. Just like my feelings about my home state, this film is a push-and-pull between the seeming absurdity on the surface and the humanity that lies beneath.
Source: New York Times
Featured Image: Shutterstock, Inc.
Inset Image: Keloland