Capturing Sunshine on Film: The Movie Industry's History in Florida

By: Hilda Mitrani

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With so much beauty and myriad locations, the film industry continues to share Florida’s treasures.

A century ago, people learned about the Sunshine State mainly through word of mouth. Then moving pictures came. Between 1908 and 1919, the nascent film industry found in Jacksonville the perfect natural lighting, weather and an array of architectural styles. Soon the St. Johns River was doubling as the Nile and the Amazon (no passport required!)

At Marineland Dolphin Adventure in nearby St. Augustine, people clamored to view the mysteries of reef fish, inadvertently creating the idea of large-scale aquariums as tourist attractions. Before SCUBA and glass-bottom boats, this remained the only spot in the world for underwater filming until the 1940s. Today, Marineland visitors see a facility that is renowned for its dolphin rehabilitation and research.

More recently, Demi Moore’s G. I. Jane, was shot here in the late 1990s, along with scenes from The Devil’s Advocate, starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves.

Micanopy captured the essence of small-town camaraderie in Doc Hollywood, starring Michael J. Fox. Meanwhile, Creature of the Black Lagoon found its scream (and stream) at Silver Springs in Ocala, now a state park where glass-bottom boats still display Florida’s natural wonders.

Dreamers of all ages are drawn to Merritt Island, site of the Apollo 13 nailbiter. If you take one of Kennedy Space Center’s popular bus tours, your guides might have assisted the film crews -- mine did! Unfortunately, he didn’t share any secrets about Tom Hanks or Kevin Bacon!

Boutiques and trendy restaurants dot picturesque Lake Worth, the Palm Beach County spot that hosted William Hurt and Kathleen Turner for the film noir classic, Body Heat.

Miami’s mystique grew with Miami Vice’s aerial shots of the architectural skyline. Hollywood took note of the changes and found locations for Something About Mary both in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Nearby at the landmark Biltmore in Coral Gables, the 22,000-square-foot swimming pool used by Esther Williams remains the largest in the continental United States. Still fabulous, the hotel hosts informal events on the pool deck that draw locals and visitors alike.

Elvis, too, arrived on the Nature Coast for a six-week shoot. Word is, he was loath to leave. Elvis fans still Follow That Dream (as the movie was called) to Ocala, Yankeetown and Inverness. In a sweet turnabout, the interior scenes from the movie were used as reference for historical accuracy of Citrus County courthouse renovation. Together, the Florida courthouses designed by E. C. Hosford create an interesting driving tour.

Boca Grande, on the tarpon-rich Charlotte Harbor, provided the backdrop for Denzel Washington's movie, Out of Time. The bucolic downtown with droopy banyan trees was based on the book Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen, a Florida native.

Naples was the scene for Adaptation, the “film within a film” about the elusive ghost orchids that bloom in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. Each summer, thousands venture here for a chance to view these small wonders.

On the other side of the spectrum, Wakulla Springs, the longest, deepest freshwater springs in the world, became part of Tarzan's Secret Treasure. Nearby in South Walton, Seaside depicted 1950s American life in The Truman Show, featuring Jim Carrey, Ed Harris and Laura Linney. The town just celebrated its 25th anniversary, and has continued to be a showpiece for our state.

Architects and lovers of design from around the world continue to make the pilgrimage to Seaside, along with the multitude of visitors who enjoy water sports, visiting Spanish-American forts and the fine beaches typical of northwest Florida.

With so much beauty and myriad locations, the film industry continues to share Florida’s treasures. Let your car follow the camera! Use this link, www.visitflorida.com/movies, to create a driving trip of your personal favorite cinematic locations in Florida.

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