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Stories From The Overseas Highway: Q&A With Filmmaker Tim Long

Airing on WLRN Channel 17 on the following dates and times:

Friday, February 22 @ 11:30 pm

Saturday, February 23 @ 4:00 pm
Sunday, February 24 @ 9 pm
Wednesday, February 27 @ 7:30 pm

Believe it or not, Florida has only one “All-American Road.”  Taking a drive down the Overseas Highway is a showcase of all things truly Americana, and filmmaker Tim Long knows this all too well.  Past projects, including Bohemia in the Tropics, A Century in the Sun and Escape to Dreamland, have explored Key West, the making of modern Florida, and the history of the Tamiami Trail, respectively.

Long's latest work 'Stories from the Overseas Highway' captures an unforgettable road trip off the mainland down US Highway One from Key Largo to Key West.  In search of the people who personify the Florida Keys’ unique, funky, laid-back island culture, the film captures the heart of Keys culture.

We recently had the chance to ask Long a few questions about the film, the Keys, and about what the future has in store for him:

1.  What is Stories from the Overseas Highway all about?

Stories from the Overseas Highway is half-hour documentary on Florida's only All-American Road.  It's basically a fun road trip movie about one of my favorite spots on the planet, the Florida Keys. 
2  Why choose to focus on the Florida Keys?

Well, the keys really are like nowhere else in the world.  And they're right in our backyard.  When people visit, whether from Miami or from anywhere else in the world, they're usually heading all the way down to Key West or maybe to some other favorite place along the island chain to go fishing, diving or just to hang out.  Everything else is a blur they pass while on the way to their destination.  I wanted to not only capture the feel of this unique place and show the beauty of the drive out over the ocean, but also share the experience of the keys from the point of view of some natives, transplants and travelers who we encountered on our filming trips.
3.  The Keys are known as a kind of end of the road for the US mainland, and it sure draws its fair share of eccentric people.  Why do you think people are drawn to such end of the line places?

The Keys aren't on the way to anywhere else: when you're driving down the Overseas Highway, this is where you've been headed all along.  But, for a long time, the keys were very remote, very hard to get to, and so people who came here were coming to get off the mainland and away from other people.  It was mostly all about the isolation and a way of life centered around fishing and the water.  One of the guys we talk to in the film came down to marathon as a shrimper in the '70s and he told us that he and his buddies used to play tag football in the middle of the road and they hardly ever had to stop their games for a passing car.  The keys are much different now, of course.  But they still retain that feel, especially when you get offshore, out to the reef or in the backcountry.   
4.  If there was a quintessential Overseas Highway food or dish? Why?

Even though I'm a New Englander and I grew up eating Maine lobsters, I'd have to say the Florida Spiny Lobster.  Not only is it a great meal you can make a number of different and delicious ways -- boiled, 


broiled, stuffed & baked -- but also catching lobsters -- diving & snorkeling and pulling them out from under rocks and other underwater structure -- is such a great way to spend a day in the keys.

5.  Do you live in the Florida Keys?

No, but my connection to the keys goes way back.  My older brother was stationed in Key West when he was in the Navy during the late '60s.  My parents drove down to visit him and they came back with these little black & white pictures of the keys.  I was maybe 12 years old.  We lived in Connecticut.  To me, at that time, a palm tree was an exotic thing.  To see photos of this narrow road out over the water to a tiny tropical island 100 miles out to sea was just amazing to me.  I was captivated back then, and so the keys became a place I knew I would have to visit sometime.  I certainly had no idea that I would be making documentary films about this place, but I knew I'd have to see it for myself.
6.  Say there was a tourist who just came down from middle America, and they only had one day to spend on the Overseas Highway.  Where would you tell them to go during that one day?

I'd tell them to get an early start because it's going to be a long day.  First, stop at Mrs. Mac's on Key Largo for breakfast, then head all the way down to Key West so you can cross all the great bridges -- Long Key Viaduct, the Seven-Mile Bridge, Bahia Honda -- with the morning light behind you.  Grab lunch in Key West, then drive back up to Bahia Honda State Park, spend some time on the beach there, take a dip in the ocean, and walk out on the old trestle railroad bridge to take some pictures.  After that, it's a short drive up to the Seven-Mile bridge where you can hang out for a while and watch the sunset.  It's a lot of driving, and you'll be tired at the end of the day, but it's a road trip you'll never forget.
7.  Is there any off-the-wall tale that didn’t make it into the final version of the film?

Well, the film's only a half hour, so there are many stories that were never going to make it in.  That's why I created the "Stories from the Overseas Highway" Facebook page.  I wanted to incorporate social media in this documentary project, as a way to extend the project beyond the television program.  So, for a couple years now, I've been posting photos, often one a day, to the Facebook page.  I'll post a production still or an archival image I've found, and then people respond by sharing their stories about the place in the photo, or they'll share their own family photos, or pictures of their trips on the Overseas Highway.  I wasn't sure if the page would connect with people, but it's growing into a fun and vibrant little online community, built around these wonderful images and stories of the keys.


8.  What's your favorite moment of the show?
That's a tough one.  I guess I'd have to say the moment near the end when Mr. Chapman talks about why he rides his tricked-out bicycle around Key West entertaining visitors.  He's a native Conch, this is his home, and he wants people to know that the culture of his home includes appreciating and enjoying life.  I love that.  And, to me, it demonstrates how individuals interpret and, by their individual actions, embody their version of an authentic culture, even one with a highly marketed worldwide reputation like Key West's.

9.  So what is next for you?

Next month, I'm heading off to Papua New Guinea with FIU Professor Tudor Parfitt, aka the British Indiana Jones, to make a documentary about a remote village of former cannibals who believe they are one of the lost tribes of Israel.  I'm expecting it to be a little different from a light-hearted romp through the Florida Keys.

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