All posts by stoltzfusmedia

The Inaugural Apalachicola Riverfront Film Festival: A Beaming Success

By Nic Stoltzfus



Saturday, October 19th, 2013 was the inaugural Apalachicola Riverfront Film Festival, and I wasn’t gonna miss it for the world. My dad, Elam Stoltzfus, his intern, Joey Dickinson, and I produced the intro to the film festival; the three of us worked on this project for weeks, and we would finally get to see it on a large 40 foot HD screen.

 After stopping by for fried twinkies, cracklins, and goat tourin’ at Blountstown’s Goat Day, Joey, two of his friends, my sister, and I headed down together to Apalachicola. We would be meeting up with Mom and Dad there.


Elam and Esther hugging after the festival

The fall sun filtered through the pine dust, and I could see beams of light falling on the forest floor as we drove towards the coast. We arrived at Apalachicola Bay around sunset. After we parked the five of us walked to the film festival. Our table was set up to the left of the screen about 20 feet back and by the dockside. I looked down and, through the iron grill, I saw the water lapping under my feet. Viewers relaxed in their lawn chairs and were split by an aisle-way dotted with yellow lights; a movie theatre on the grass. Merrill Livingstone, the founder of the fest, opens the event; by now it is night and a cool gulf breeze is blowing inland. After Merrill’s opening comments the video that Dad, Joey, and I made began rolling. Chill bumps and memories: scenes pass before my eyes as I recall all the places we visited making the film. magical. After it is over I glance over at Joey and his eyes are twinkling, too. We bump fists and grin. We did it.

 The clouds of night parted and the delicate moon shine reached us. It began its arch across the sky and we continued watching movies.

 The first annual Apalachicola Riverfront Festival was a beaming success. I know that when the full moon rises next October I will be out on Apalachicola Bay taking in the salty air and fine movies. 

For more information and tickets for the second annual Apalachicola Riverfront Film Festival visit

Cowhands in Florida?

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by Elam Stoltzfus

October 21, 2013

This 90-second interstitial is a segment from the 13 part series I produced for WUSF and funded by the Mosaic Company.  Creating this series was an opportunity to dig into the archives of previous footage and tell new stories about a collection of great natural environments in Florida.

In 2009 several ranches in central Florida were featured for the Kissimmee Basin: the Northern Everglades documentary and later in 2012 for the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition: Everglades to Okefenokee documentary.  Ranches and cowhands (cowgirls and cowboys) in Florida maintain large tracts of land that are an essential piece for healthy wildlife habitat.

When I interviewed Florida rancher Cary Lightsey, he said, “Florida’s had cattle for five hundred years, …and they had buffalo before that.  To me, [it] is a stationary part of Florida ranchland…  And it’s just a great cow state, and a lot of people don’t realize how great of a state that Florida is for cattle”.


Florida Wildlife Corridor expeditioner, Carlton Ward, Jr., commented, “I want the people of Florida and our country to know that there is this amazing culture of people in the Florida ranching community, who have been on that landscape sometimes for nearly two centuries; and it’s because of these ranches that we still have the opportunity to protect the corridor for water and for wildlife”.


Interviewing Carlton and Cary Lightsey reminded me of my time growing up on a dairy farm. Like the ranching communities in Florida, my forefathers, Amish immigrants from Germany, have been working the land in Pennsylvania for centuries. Growing up on a dairy farm taught me how to work hard and forged in me a respect for the land.

As a young boy, free time was spent exploring the woods, observing wildlife, and fishing in a nearby creek. I first went fishing when I was five, and I used one of my mother’s safety pins as the hook. I guess none of the fish were looking to get pinned, so I came back home empty-handed.  Later, I got myself a real fishing hook and snagged reams of bass and brim (“sunnies” in Lancaster, PA, slang) from the local farm ponds.

Working on a farm takes commitment and hard work, dawn ‘til dusk. Come to think of it, I always had a few chores in the barn in the morning before breakfast and before going to elementary school. Wonder what I smelled like? Hmmm…

Growing up with dirt in my fingernails makes me appreciate and respect the ranchers and cowhands here in Florida.  It was an honor for me to work alongside these decent country folk, listen to their stories, and learn about how they truly are “keepers of the land.”

When you travel across Highway 60 from the coasts, or go from Yeehaw Junction to St. Cloud or south through the counties of Glades and Highlands, take time to slow down and drive back the gravel roads, off the beaten path.  You may see a glimpse of cowhands riding horses and rounding up cattle in the pastures of Florida.  Cowboys in Florida are one of our great state’s “signature images” that represent our past, present, and future.

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For more information visit:

Myakka River State Park

By Elam Stoltzfus

October 15th, 2013

This 90-second interstitial is a segment from the 13 part series I produced for WUSF and funded by the Mosaic Company.  Creating this series was an opportunity to dig into the archives of previous footage and tell new stories about a collection of great natural environments in Florida.

Myakka River State Park is located  9 miles east of Interstate 75 in Sarasota County and is filled with waterways and marshes that beckon you to come explore. Over the next two days my intern, Joey Dickinson, and I worked from dawn til dusk to collect footage for the above 90 second piece.


With over 37,000 acres to roam around in, Myakka River State Park is one of the state’s largest parks.  A series of hiking trails provide an outdoors enthusiasts a place to observe wildlife through the marshes and pine lands. The park has a diverse collection of wildlife including a large congregation of bellowing gators.


The park also has a Canopy Walk Trail that includes a towering 76 foot observation platform. It is the first canopy walk in Florida and is modeled after ones used by scientists in the rainforests of South America.   Providing an intimate look at the surrounding live oak canopy and a sweeping panorama of the Myakka River basin, this canopy trail provides a magnificent view of the park.


So, when you travel through Sarasota County on I-75, take a time to hike, kayak , canoe, bike, fish or drive through the park.

For more information visit: or

Introduction to the Big Cypress National Preserve

Written by Elam Stoltzfus

October 7th, 2013

This 90-second interstitial is a segment from the 13 part series I produced for WUSF and funded by the Mosaic Company.  Creating this series was an opportunity to dig into the archives of previous footage and tell new stories about a collection of great natural environments in Florida.

In 1989 I made my first trip into the Big Cypress National Preserve. Bev and Mike Lewis of Silk Purse Productions in Tallahassee were producing a special PBS production about Clyde Butcher.  This introduction was filmed with Clyde, a fine-art landscape photographer, and his wife, Niki. They were a gracious host and hostess.


What I found upon entering was amazing; the vast prairie landscape was dotted with miniature bald cypress trees. There was beauty of big open sky space. I remember walking through the swamp grass and feeling the sponginess of the soil.  It was during the drier season of the year. We filmed in the Big Cypress area for several days. I recall climbing up a 12-foot ladder to film Clyde with his old pre-civil war view camera out in the middle of the prairie.  There was sense of smallness in the middle of this huge landscape, yet an intimate moment of interacting with this ancient land.


Fast forward to the year 2008 and 2009: I was spending weeks in the Big Cypress National Preserve putting together an hour-long documentary, The Big Cypress Swamp: the Western Everglades.  By this time Clyde Butcher had established the Big Cypress Gallery right in the middle of the Preserve along Highway 41.  With the use of their cottage, this was home base for almost two years of documenting the swamp.  The Preserve was a great partner providing logistics and giving me access to remote areas of the 700,000-acre region.


During my few years of documenting the Big Cypress region, I began to understand that this a hotbed of biological diversity. It contains a mixture of tropical and temperate plant communities that are home to a diversity of wildlife, including the elusive Florida panther.

I have several great memories from my time filming the documentary. One was being with two landowners, Steve DeLine and “Hoss” Cartwright, during a trip to their hunting camp about halfway between Monroe Station and I-75 within the preserve.  The trip took five hours by swamp buggies.  The location was remote and very wild; located among a series of cypress domes.

Another moment was coming back from Bear Island Camp area and seeing a young panther crossing the road.  Sammy Tedder was traveling with me; he was able to get a quick image on his still camera.


One evening I had set up the camera and ladder, just north of Wagon Wheel Road to capture a time-lapse sunset.  As I was standing on the ladder (this takes about 45 minutes) waiting for the camera to capture the sequence, I heard some sloshing in the distance. The sound became more prominent and closer.  As I continue to scan the horizon for what was making this sound, I finally spotted a Florida Black Bear meandering around the cypress strand and slowing moving around to the right of my location.  I never moved and observed his movement until the bear disappeared in the distance.


Big Cypress Swamp provided me with an interaction with nature, up close and personal.  After spending so much of my time on location to document the “Eden swamp”, I took a bit of the swamp that now is part of my soul, but I also left a bit of my soul in the deep swamp of the Western Everglades.


Now, fast forward again to 2012, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition traveled through the Big Cypress National Preserve as we transversed from the Everglades to Okefenokee.  Its here we met up with Bob DeGross, Big Cypress Preserve Chief Park Interpreter, and Franklin Adams, Florida Wildlife Federation Board member. They both talked about the importance to have large-scale wilderness areas for wildlife and for people. These places of quiet, remote wilderness are for the healing of the soul and renewal of the spirit.  The Expedition team camped out in the primitive camp ground before hiking through the addition lands on our way to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation.


For more information about the Big Cypress Swamp: Western Everglades go to: or The National Preserve has a Visitor’s welcome center with a theatre and an educational display to learn more about the Big Cypress Swamp.

For more information about landscape photographer Clyde Butcher visit  A must see place is the Clyde Butcher Gallery along Highway 41, halfway between Naples and Miami.