Trailer-The Bubble: A Documentary about Disney’s Town of Celebration, Florida
“The Bubble,” is a documentary about the Town of Celebration, Florida. Celebration was developed by The Walt Disney Company in the early 1990’s. Although Walt Disney had plans to build a “Community of the Future,” Celebration was built long after his death and did not follow his vision. Some see Celebration as a safe, modern community and others view it as an overly perfect town from “The Stepford Wives.”*
I recently spoke with Philip B. Swift, the Director of “The Bubble” to discuss his film and the town of Celebration. To attend the upcoming screening party for “The Bubble,” and for more information on Celebration and Philip’s other work, see the information listed at the end of the interview.
Jeanie: What is your experience with Disney? Did you grow up visiting the parks and become a fan as a child?
Philip: “I grew up in Akron, OH and wasn’t raised with any sort of religion, but every year we took the closest thing to a pilgrimage to Mecca that I’ve ever experienced in my life, which was our annual trip to Walt Disney World to pray at the alter of the mouse. My dad died 6 months before I was born, so I feel that my mother thought it was really important that I had a healthy fantasy life, something that Disney definitely provided. We would watch all the movies and I was a big fan of the Disney Afternoon lineup when it was on the air. In fact, I liked that so much that I had a cassette tape with all the theme songs on it, DuckTales, Chip and Dale, Gummi Bears, etc. I took that tape with me to summer camp one year, I must have been 11 or 12, and I got made fun of so bad that I threw it away. That’s a bummer.
As I got older, the annual trips continued and sometimes we’d bring some of my friends along with us. That’s when I began to look for more “alternative” ways of having fun at the park, nothing too extreme, definitely nothing like what’s in Leonard Kinsey’s book The Dark Side of Disney, but just goofy teenager shenanigans to mix up the regular activities. Stupid stuff like asking cast members where the “Parasol of Congress” was, very clever, right?
The trips started to peter as I got older, but my mom still has a season pass and goes to the park 3 or 4 times a year. The last time I went was in 2005 after my grandmother who helped raise me died. My girlfriend, who is now my wife, and I went with my mom and snuck a small bag of my grandmother’s ashes into the Magic Kingdom and discreetly dumped them into the moat around the castle. We thought we were busted when we heard someone say, “What are you doing?”. We turned to confront a grizzled man who may have been an undercover cast member, hesitated for a moment, and then told him the truth. He furrowed his brow for a moment, then it relaxed as a huge grin stretched across his face and he said, “That…is…awesome!”
Jeanie: What does “The Bubble” mean in the context of your film?
Philip: “The Bubble” is actually how the residents of Celebration, FL refer to the town. They feel like the experience they have living there is so isolated and pristine that it’s like living under a bubble. A few other things add to that bubble mystique; all the power and telecommunication lines are underground, so when there’s a storm like a hurricane that sometimes blows through Florida, the town is unaffected. Some of the residents told me that they’ve never had a blackout or loss of phone in the history of the town, further enhancing the bubble symbolism.
Something that I considered when making the film, and I believe is discussed in it, is how a bubble magnifies the things inside of it, the way that Celebration is constantly scrutinized by the outside world. Yes there was a murder in the town, but one in almost 20 years is a pretty good record compared to other places, an event like that just gets magnified when seen through the bubble.”
Jeanie: Your film talks about the original plans for a Disney town. Can you tell us a bit about Walt’s original concept of a “town created by the Disney Company/Epcot/city of the future” vs. the town of Celebration?
Philip: “The original plan for EPCOT was this super futuristic creative, well, Mecca to use that comparison again, where innovators from all over the world could converge to collaborate on new, exciting ideas that would shape a better tomorrow. That plan never came to fruition, partly due to Walt Disney’s death shortly after the announcement of his plans. Had he lived, the plan may have happened, but with his death, some of the dreams died too. When it became more of a business decision for what to do with the land, the theme park EPCOT Center was built, and while it still held some of that innovative inspiration, it was a small sliver of what Walt’s dream was.
When the Disney Company decided to revisit Walt’s original dream of building a city, the plan shifted from innovation and creativity, and more to a normal town inspired by the Americana that Walt Disney grew up in. Some of the innovation was there, as seen in the aforementioned design of the power and telecommunications grid, but in general it has nothing to do with those original plans for EPCOT.”
Jeanie: What is Disney’s current involvement in the town of Celebration?
Philip: “Disney still has some influence on the board that runs the town, but that board is primally now made up of residents and employees of Lexin, the company that bought the management rights to the town from Disney in 2006. Nothing can be built or changed in the town without Disney’s approval since it’s still technically on land they own, but Lexin and the residents hold the controlling power.”
Jeanie: What inspired you to do the film, “The Bubble”?
Philip: “On one of those many trips to Walt Disney World when I was growing up, it must have been around 1994, my mom caught wind that they were beginning to build the town. She was super excited and after sometime driving around she found the construction site. There wasn’t much to see at the time, a model home was there with others beginning to be built, but my mom was infatuated with it.
I didn’t think about that town until many years later when the first reports started coming out about the murder that happened there in 2010. If that wasn’t intriguing enough, stories started popping up about the swinger scene in Celebration shortly after that. One resident was quoted as saying, “I never met so many swingers until I moved to Celebration”, and that was it. I had the tagline for the film right in front of me, how could I not go and make a movie about it? Murder. Sex. Disney. This town has it all.”
Jeanie: Tell us a bit about the film and the types of things viewers can expect to learn about Celebration while watching it.
Philip: “The easiest way to pitch the film is that it is an oral history of the town from the residents who live there. I did my absolute best to keep an objective point of view and just let them tell the story. My favorite thing about that is by letting the story be told that way, letting the residents speak for themselves, you get to see how rumors spread in a small community like Celebration. The Swingers segment of the film, in particular, is one of my favorite because it’s not really about swingers, but about the gossip that spreads when people talk.”
Jeanie: When most people think about “a town built by Disney,” they seem to have the image of a Norman Rockwell painting of perfection where ‘average’ people can’t go. But, Celebration has no gates and anyone can just wander in and go to the shops and restaurants and events. How would you describe the town of Celebration now that you’ve done this movie?
Philip: “The author Naomi Klein in her book No Logo refers to Celebration as not a town, but a “town museum”. It’s a place where you can go and experience what a town may have felt like in 1950s America, a town thriving in a post-war era. The only different thing about this “museum” and others, is that people actually live in this one. Those folks are not hired actors pretending to churn butter at some museums, the residents of Celebration have real lives and all the baggage that comes with those. That may be one of the sources of people’s confusion about the town, outsides see it as a museum, while residents are truly just trying to live their lives while being constantly scrutinized.
One of the realizations I had about the town, while making the film, was how it wasn’t really all that different or special. Sure it was designed by the Disney Company and it had the is special origin story, but once they cut that tape and opened the town, most of that magic disappeared. It’s a town, just like any other.”
Jeanie: Where can people see “The Bubble”?
Philip: “The Bubble is available on VoD and DVD through Amazon. All the details are at www.thebubbledocumentary.com “
Jeanie: Do you have any other projects that you can tell our readers about, past, present, future? And how they can find you and follow your work?
Philip: “Continuing the Disney trend, I am working on a Documentary adaptation of Leonard Kinsey’s book, The Dark Side of Disney. It’s a really exciting collaboration where I’ll be interviewing Leonard and other people who have decided to find alternative ways to have fun at the Disney parks, then I’ll be treating the book as a series of challenges, seeing if me and a colleague of mine can achieve everything that Leonard lays out in the book.
We’re launching a Kickstarter for it later this month, more info will be available soon on my website www.dearmothman.com .”
“The Bubble” Documentary Screening Event
Tuesday, April 22, 7-9 PM Free Admission
Atomic Books, 3620 Falls Rd. Baltimore, MD
The screening of the film will be followed by a book signing and an announcement of a collaboration between the author, Leonard Kinsey and the filmmaker, Philip B. Swift on a Documentary adaptation of the author’s first book The Dark Side of Disney.
Thank you to Mr. Philip B. Swift for granting this interview. Check out some of his other work such as “Fashionable Living Room.” http://dearmothman.com/narrative/
The Dark Side of Disney by Leonard Kinsey: http://bambooforest.storenvy.com/collections/128313-all-products/products/677593-the-dark-side-of-disney-paperback
Celebration, FL website: www.celebration.fl.us/
Film footage provided by and printed with permission by Philip B. Swift.
Find Jeanie on Twitter @JeanieBlue114 or on her blog ThePrincessPapers.com