Class of ’98 Firestone High School graduate Philip B. Swift combined his love of movie making with his interest in Walt Disney World in Orlando to produce a documentary film about the town that Disney built. If you harbor any pre-conceived notions about the exclusive community located right next door to the Mouse House, and called Celebration, Fla., then Swift’s new movie may just burst your bubble.
Titled: The Bubble: A Documentary Film about Celebration, Florida and produced by Swift’s wife and collaborator, Katie Robbins, the movie recently premiered at Akron’s own eclectic venue – Musica on E. Market St. to a capacity crowd. The movie held the audience, at times, in a state of deep and engrossed attention. After all, the movie does have the tag line: “Murder. Sex. Disney. This town has it all.”
Speaking before the event, Swift, now a New York-based filmmaker and educator explained what led to his interest in filmmaking.
“I started making movies around [age] 13 when I got my first video camera and started making movies with my friends. Other kids were out playing football and kissing girls – but we didn’t really do that, we just made movies. That was actually the subject of my first short documentary that I made in 2010. It was the opening-night selection for the Akron Film Festival. It’s called, Sincerely, P.D. Reese, and it’s all about growing up with my friends making these films when we were kids. The sad truth of that is when I was 24, my best friend, Steve, who was in a lot of those films, passed away from leukemia. So this little documentary – interviewing my friends about these silly films – becomes a memorial for our friend who’s now gone, but who lives on, forever, in these films. So I’ve been doing it forever,” he said.
Robbins suggested going to Celebration, Fla. during spring break in 2011 to make the movie. Before leaving, Swift began a Google search of places like Celebration Real Estate, Celebration Chamber of Commerce, and Celebration High School.
“The first interview we got was with the high school drama teacher, Barb Bowers,” Swift said. “She was great.” He also gave a presentation to the Celebration High School drama class based on the work he does in New York, teaching filmmaking in high schools there. “I went into the high school and said, ‘This is what I do, guys,’ and I screened Sincerely, P.D. Reese for them. It really ingratiated me with the community, so we interviewed about five or six people in April,” Swift said.
Based on the footage from that trip, he was able to secure funding for the project on Kickstarter. Swift said teaching about Kickstarter has become part of his curriculum with his own film students in New Year. Then, in November, 2011, he and friend Joe Spit [director of photography] returned and stayed in a hotel for 10 days while interviewing more people and shooting additional B-Roll footage.
Originally conceived in Uncle Walt’s imagination as the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, the town never became a reality after Disney’s death in 1966. Instead, his concept morphed into the theme park attraction that exists today. But, in the early ’90s, Disney executives decided to pursue the idea of building a town and construction was begun in 1994. Disney ran the town from 1996 to 2006, and held control of the town. Then they were bought by Lexin in 2006.
Swift said, “It was planned from day one, by Disney that they would turn it over to somebody else. The town was run by a committee that over-saw everything that happened and eventually it would transition into the townsfolk’s hands.”
Swift went on to explain, “It originally was 10 people from Disney, then the next year it was nine people and one person from the town and so on until it was completely run by the town itself. One of the questions that came up was would this town be able to exist without a private realty company, or Disney, and the answer that I heard from a lot of people was ‘Yes, it would,’ because the townsfolk now hold the majority of the directorships as far as the board is concerned.”
Asked which filmmakers were an influence on him starting out, Swift stated, “When I was younger, the two big things that hooked me, was I wanted to be a cartoonist forever – maybe the Disney connection is something to be seen there, but what really got me is, when I was 13, I got into the Coen Brothers and Stanley Donen – which seems like two opposite ends of the ocean – he had Singin’ in the Rain and [they had] Barton Fink, and those two together inspired me to move on.”
Swift added, “This is the first feature length documentary I’ve ever made. As seniors in high school we made a one-hour narrative film that was great. We thought it was the best thing ever.”
After the Akron screening Swift’s movie is currently in consideration at 12 different movie festivals all through the world, including New Zealand. And he did state, with pride, that he has received his rejection letter from Sundance, which drew a round of applause from the crowd during the Q & A after the showing. With only 1.4% of the more than 14,000 submissions being selected, he’s happy to be part of the 99.
“There are three options for the film – either it’s picked up at a festival and gets screened and maybe wins prizes or it gets distribution at the festival,” Swift said. “The second option is that I send it to Independent Television Service which is the organization that buys all documentary work that appears on PBS. The third tier is self-distribution or through Amazon with Streaming Video and Print-on-Demand services.”
At the conclusion of the event, several viewers in the audience offered their opinion of the film. Christina Getrost, of Akron said, “It was very good. I thought it was pretty good, it was funny…it was funnier than I expected, and it gave an interesting portrait of an unusual town.”
Eric Edmisten commented, “I thought it was a pretty objective piece. Interesting. I guess my thoughts are that it’s kind of hard to manufacture perfection and it seems like maybe that’s what the idea was originally and maybe over time it’s evolved into something that’s a little different than what the original intention was. I thought it was a very entertaining movie.”
As to what led him away from Akron, Swift had this to say, “I moved away from Akron as soon as I could. I went to Kent State for a year and a half. Then moved to Nashville, and then moved to Marietta, Ohio then Pittsburg. Then I came back to Akron in 2005 because of a trip over the holidays…I ran into a woman I knew from high school named Katie Robbins. I didn’t know what I was doing with the rest of my life and I ran into her and it just ‘clicked’. So why travel the world when the woman I’m looking for is right here in Akron? She went to Korea to teach for a year [so] then I moved to New York and went to film school, finally, and legitimized my passion as a career.”