|'Lithium Springs' Surfaces At Polk Theatre
By BILLY TOWNSEND The Tampa Tribune
Published: May 17, 2007
LAKELAND - It's tough to hang a genre on "Lithium Springs," the movie from Lakeland filmmaker Carter Lord.
You might call it "Creature From the Black Lagoon" meets "The Dukes of Hazzard" meets "Adaptation" meets "Ferngully" meets …
Or, maybe just consider some of what's in it: lovely underwater photography of Florida springs, white-water paddling, scheming land-use lawyers, an abusive sheriff's deputy, Harley-riding developers, a war on litter, peculiar accents and a love story of sorts.
And then there are the various leotard-clad wood nymphs, green ogres and ageless river creatures, including a buff man in a Speedo. He spends much of the movie smearing his bare chest and arms with chemicals to feed an addiction he has picked up by swimming in them. It leads to a bizarre on-screen intervention.
At the center of all this are Evinrude Jones, a goofily earnest tugboat captain and sometime treasure hunter, and his loyal dachshund, Fred, who dons scuba gear and goggles at a key point in the action.
The pair spend the movie searching for the lost treasure of Ponce de Leon, which he long ago hid at Lithium Springs, the true site of the mythical Fountain of Youth, or so we learn in the opening sequence. Using a map found at "the Tampa library," man and dog set off in search of riches. But they're drawn into the struggle to save Lithium Springs and its river woods from the sweet clutches of "Big Sugar" and the general inattentiveness of modern Floridians.
Close To Home
Maybe it's just a look into the mind of Lord, who wrote and directed "Lithium Springs" and stars as Evinrude.
The 60-year-old Lord is the Harvard-educated son of a Polk County engineer closely tied to the phosphate industry. He calls himself a fiscally conservative Republican sympathetic to business. He makes a living as an airplane parts broker.
Yet, his passions are film and the preservation of the wild Florida he knew as a boy, particularly its springs and river swamps.
"I love the woods. I've spent a huge part of my life in Polk County's woods. There's magic there. The spirit of the land speaks to me," he says.
That spirit will be on full display at special screenings of "Lithium Springs," set for 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Lakeland's historical Polk Theatre. Lord will introduce the film and mingle with moviegoers for as long as they have questions. He considers the screenings the film's commercial launch.
"Lithium Springs" was filmed with actors who worked in exchange for a small percentage of any eventual proceeds. A number are well-known Polk County and Lakeland figures. They include Paul Hughes, the longtime artistic director of Lakeland's community theater, and Joe Mawhinney, a former Lakeland city attorney. Hughes plays a reticent woods creature smeared in green paint. Mawhinney plays, ahem, a devious lawyer.
Virtually all scenes were shot within a 50-mile radius of Tampa. The river swamp sequences were largely filmed at Crystal Springs and the headwaters of the Hillsborough River. Others were shot in Hardee County.
Lord hired a firm specializing in underwater photography to film several scenes at Ginnie Springs and Devil's Den in north Florida, near Gainesville. It was the most expensive element of the shoot, Lord says. But it paid off. The quality of the underwater images is striking, as good as almost any documentary you might see.
No Overnight Success
Lord's quest to get "Lithium Springs" made and distributed has been just as arduous and winding as Evinrude's pursuit of Ponce's gold.
Shooting actually wrapped in 1999. Shortly after, Lord sent an early version of the movie to industry people. The responses were all the same.
"It wasn't any good," Lord says with a wry smile.
Lord doesn't consider himself an amateur. He worked in the technical side of the industry as a younger man and made a movie in the 1980s called "The Enchanted," which played at the Cannes Film Festival. It didn't make much money, but it was in the game for a time.
The outlook for "Lithium Springs" was bleaker, largely because Lord realized his performance as Evinrude, with lots of mugging to the camera, didn't always jibe with the rest of the movie.
He says he never really wanted to be the star, but finances mandated it. Evinrude is in virtually every scene, and the commitment for a professional actor would have been extensive.
"I was cheap, and I was on time," he says.
The movie sat for several years. The break came when Lord enlisted the help of screenwriter and story editor Esther Luttrell, who saw the early version and decided it could be fixed.
She convinced Lord to add narration to help pacing and added a wistful music track. She cut way back on Evinrude, letting the story of Lithium Springs and its bizarre inhabitants take the lead.
Lord liked what came back to him. He says the movie was well-received at several film festivals. And in December, he started a push to sell DVDs of the movie. He has been inspired by tales of filmmakers selling thousands of copies of their films online. He has a long way to go to break even. He has about $250,000 in the movie and its post-production. He has sold about 300 copies of the DVD.
"Lithium Springs" got a boost recently when the Library Journal named it "pick of the week."
"My career has not been very successful, to tell you the truth," Lord says. "It takes a long time to become an overnight success. I've been working on it for 35 years."
Whatever money "Lithium Springs" manages to make, Lord says he's proud of making it: "I think it was a worthwhile thing to do."
WHAT: Commercial launch of movie by Lakeland filmmaker Carter Lord; double feature with his earlier film "The Enchanted"
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday
WHERE: Polk Theatre, 127 S. Florida Ave., Lakeland
TICKETS: $6; $4 for students; (863)-682-7553
Reporter Billy Townsend can be reached at (863) 284-1409 or firstname.lastname@example.org.