Update 4/14/16: In honor of National Dolphin Day, the filmmakers have made the full Dolphin Lover documentary available for streaming. Watch the full documentary in the video above.
It's hard not to look at the poster for Dolphin Lover and immediately wonder whether the documentary is serious. It doesn't get much more provocative than the words "This man had sex with a dolphin," and it's a surefire way to pull folks
To many, that revelation is likely terribly shocking and truly awful, but Dolphin Lover wasn't made to shame Brenner. Rather, it allows him to tell his story through film, and it's surprisingly captivating to watch him genuinely bare it all. It's a candid film, inspired by Brenner's book, Wet Goddess: Recollections of a Dolphin Lover, comprising a lengthy interview with Brenner — who describes his relationship with affection and detail — along with archival footage from Floridaland, Brenner's personal
With the film's recent unveiling at Slamdance, where it officially had its world premiere Sunday, January 25, New Times interviewed both of the filmmakers, as well as Brenner.
New Times: You have a knack for documenting rather offbeat stories — first Cherry Pop and now Dolphin Lover. What draws you to these narratives rather than something more typical of a doc?
Kareem Tabsch: I've always been fascinated by and interested in the offbeat, that which lives in the fringes and leaves a lasting impression. There are so many people with unique stories living
From a subject-matter perspective, I am also very interested in the human-animal bond, and I think our films explore two very different aspects of that. I also can't deny that I embrace what I affectionately call "weird Florida," and I definitely think that's a motivation for me in making these films, and in that regard I am actually rather inspired by my friends Billy Corben, Alfred Spellman, and David Cypkin, whose body of work exposes the seedy underbelly of the Sunshine State.
What brought you to wanting to make a documentary about a story as provocative as Malcolm Brenner's and his experience with Dolly the dolphin?
Tabsch: The films that I love the most illicit a visceral reaction in me that remains long after the final credits and which keep me thinking and talking about them. I'm interested in creating films that do the same for other people and make us think about things we likely wouldn't otherwise. However uncomfortable it can be as a subject matter, what Malcolm experienced is unique and very real and very serious to him. He is a member of a community (zoophiles) who live on the outermost fringes of society. Their reality is something most of us can not comprehend, relate to or know much about- all of that makes it all the more appealing to me as a subject to tackle.
The documentary maintains a very unbiased perspective; even though the story itself sways between sympathetic and unsettling, it's never mean-spirited. How hard was it to remain impartial and did you ever have any worries that people might react poorly to this story or expect you to be making light of his experience?
KT: It was important
Why the decision to make a short documentary rather than either a feature-length doc or a narrative fiction short based on Brenner's Sea Goddess?
Joey Daoud: We had discussed early on what the appropriate format for Malcolm's story would be. It felt like it could be a strong short documentary. The only way a feature seemed viable is if this was a longer piece on zoophilia.
We went the documentary route because the truth really is stranger than fiction. And when the format is fictionalized, there's always that thought in the back of the audience's mind of, "oh, did that really happen or did they make that up?" When you see Dolphin Lover, everything Malcolm says is his true recollections of his experience.
To bounce off the concept of making something that actually depicted these events, in the film you use these pieces of animation to complement what Brenner says about his and Dolly's night together. Why that art instead of simply his words or old footage like much of the rest of the short? And how hard was it to come across people willing to provide that art?
JD: The animation is only used during Malcolm and Dolly's love making
I put a call out of animators, not completely describing the project but just hinting that it was unusual. When I got some replies I went into more detail. One animator flat out refused the project, saying he wasn't comfortable with the subject. Luckily JP Torres was up for the task and did an amazing job.
Your world premiere just happened this weekend at Slamdance. How did that go? Were there audience walkouts, any uncomfortable questions following the film, or a general sense of acceptance for the story depicted?
JD: We couldn't have asked for a better audience at the premiere. It was a packed house, people were sitting in the aisles and standing in the back of the theater. The emotional response was exactly what we
Now that things have gone successfully at Slamdance, what's your plan for this film and what's next in the books for you in terms of filmmaking?
JD: Slamdance is a great launching point for the festival circuit, so we'll be screening Dolphin Lover at various film festivals. Eventually, it will find its way online. Kareem and I have a good track record so far of bringing weird Florida stories to the big screen, so we've got some new ones in
KT: I've promised myself that I am only going to work with people who I want to work with and who I love and respect. That's been the case at O Cinema and it's certainly the case in collaborating with Joey. Making a movie, even a short one, is so much work and stress that if you don't enjoy it then you're doing it wrong. There are plenty of other stories we want to tell, I'm just as excited to be able to make them as I am to continue to collaborate with Joey.
How comfortable were you when first approached about this project?
Malcolm Brenner: How comfortable was I? I would say that I made a rather snap judgment about the guys based on our first meeting and the
And more importantly, how do you feel about the way the documentary went and what do you hope for most with the release of this short film?
MB: I feel the documentary went very well. I think it is about the best on-screen interpretation of my experience that I could hope for, and I think the audience response at Slamdance confirms that this is, for most people, an eye-opening subject. It pushes their comfort zones, even as being this public has pushed mine. I hope the release of this film will stimulate greater understanding of dolphins and their complex lives, that it will encourage people to do what they can to protect dolphins and preserve their environment. That is all I have ever wanted out of publicizing my story.
How did you come
MB: I decided to publicize my story in 1973 at the suggestion of Dr. John C. Lilly, a controversial neuroscientist who had tried to communicate with dolphins in the 1960s. Lilly was the only scientist who would listen openly to my experience without trying to explain to me how I was anthropomorphizing the dolphins. I felt I had had a rare experience with another sentient species, and that people needed to know dolphins are capable of loving a human being.
It has been very cathartic to be able to share this experience. Before I published Wet Goddess in 2010, I was very depressed about ever being able to tell my story. I think it's important that I do so as it explores little-known aspects of dolphin behavior that may have
Although the interview for the film lasted almost four hours, it was a lot easier telling my story to a sympathetic interviewer like Kareem than it was writing the book. I started the book in 1973, worked on it in a very haphazard fashion for eight years before putting it down. I was simply still too close to the material and too emotionally affected by the shock of rejection. I picked up the book again in 1994 when I heard Flipper was being remade with Paul Hogan. (What a lousy movie that was, but at least no dolphins got spear-gunned making it, like in the original.) The book's