A planned community built near “The Happiest Place on Earth” may be anything but, as smalltown traditional values face the realities of the recession and the dark side of the American Dream.
Founded in 1994, Celebration FL was planned and developed by the Walt Disney Company to be a utopian return to smalltown American life. Inspired by Walt Disney’s plans for a “Community of Tomorrow” – though decidedly different in approach and architecture from EPCOT – Disney took an active role in creating the mater planned community which today has a population of close to 7500 individuals – people who bought into the idea of translating the Disney experience into a literal way of life. Perhaps realizing that they were better off dealing with theme parks and movies, the company soon divested most of its interest in the town, but their stamp remains. While, on the surface, Celebration appears to be an idyllic places, a “bubble” that protects its residents from the harsher elements of larger, less-planned communities, cracks have started to appear. When filmmaker Philip B Swift started to see articles about the first murder in the town, he was motivated to start digging beneath the surface, and his discoveries motivated this project.
Swift is still in production on the project, and, at the time of this writing, has reached just over 40% of his Kickstarter goal. If you’re interested in contributing, make sure to pledge by next Friday. While the project does not yet have its own website, Swift maintains a general page about his filmmaking here.
I’m fascinated by the idea of Celebration FL – what inspired its founding, what types of people heard about it and thought “hey, that’s for me!” and how the community has managed to implement such a deliberately manufactured ethos. What happens when neighbors don’t fall in line? Who exactly is allowed to live there, and who isn’t? And just how does the community deal with situations that might put the lie to their idea of utopia? Swift mentions divorce, the housing crisis, and murder – all juicy stuff to be sure. While there might be a slight element of schadenfreude to my interest in the topic, I am most intrigued by the constructed nature of the community, and the artifice that is almost necessitated. Swift’s stated desire to get the story directly from Celebration’s residents promises to lend a direct authenticity to the film, providing a privileged insider’s look that should help viewers see past any facades.