The area between the north end of Riverview at Bloomingdale Avenue and the Manatee County line has been called many things over the years including East Bay and South Shore. But those who have been here the longest have always called it South County.
At one time, in the late 1980s in fact, the southern part of Hillsborough County had two movements to secede from Hillsborough County because of its unique differences from other unincorporated neighborhoods and its vast amount of (then) undeveloped land.
Both efforts to secede — and a later effort for a portion of it to incorporate — failed because Tallahassee legislators refused to approve furthering the efforts. But at the time, all the groups involved agreed upon one thing: the name for this new county — if allowed to self govern — would be SOUTH COUNTY.
That is the name many old-timers remember and still use today.
Tampa videographer and filmmaker Shawn Cheatham picked up on this in the interviews and workshop he’s conducted in South County during the past months.
Hired to do a professional video on the area under a grant provided by the South Shore Arts Council, Cheatham, who teaches film and photography at the University of South Florida and also makes documentaries and is currently working on a full-length film on his own, interviewed people from all over South County, taught workshops on how to prepare for interviews; how to do interviews; and how to shoot both still scenery and videos.
“During the shoots I was lucky enough to meet and interview a very diverse cross section of folks who are connected to the area in various ways,” Cheatham said in an interview Feb. 19. “As we worked through the process, we realized that these people’s stories were the best way to capture the essence of the community. So, the film primarily focuses on the heterogeneity of the people who live and work there as a way to examine the rich and complex social, political and cultural structure of South County.”
With the consistent help of Michael Parker, director of community arts projects at Ruskin’s Big Draw Studio, and many from the Arts Council including Vicki and Jeff Knauff and Kate Hamilton who worked closely with the process, and others like Bruce Marsh who helped spearhead the Firehouse Cultural Center, Cheatham was led away from the “same-ole-same-ole” local people and stories to a much wider view.
“Every year the Arts Council has a budget for community projects,” said Parker. “Up until now, we’ve done murals and studio work. I proposed doing something completely different this time and created an online workspace where about 20 people who were really interested in helping shape the video gathered, brain-stormed, and shared ideas. It was awesome.”
Some of the ideas that came from the workspace were an Arts Parade and a video capturing a wide view of the many aspects of South County.
“That was not easy,” Parker said. “It is so very diverse.”
So Cheatham began by holding workshops at the Big Draw. He taught people how to shoot “landscape as subject matter” and has now ended up with more than 30 hours of footage that must be edited into a 45-minute-to 1 hour production.
Its name is simply SOUTH COUNTY: the video.
So many people helped it would be impossible to name them all in this story. But the group hopes to release it by the end of April before the snowbirds go back up North.
“About 75 percent of the editing is done,” Parker said. “But it is very time consuming. There is so much material. So much very good material. Deciding what to leave out is not an easy task.”
Cheatham recently completed a one-and-a-half minute trailer to the upcoming video. It is filled with people of all kinds from Major General John Paulk, a former Hillsborough County Commissioner and County Administrator, who retired to South County in the early 1980s from a long military career; a group of women from the Ruskin Woman’s Club telling colorful stories of “old Ruskin” that are seldom mentioned in the historical record; and a man known simply as “Tom,” who gave perhaps the best interview of all.
“Tom is homeless and lives out behind the buildings in the (Ruskin) plaza,” said Parker. “I don’t know what we’d do without him. He keeps things ‘under control’ here. And he gave us one of the best interviews of all. Tom was glad to tell us how he once had a good job with the county, how he came to be homeless, and why he chooses to stay where he is.”
From the interview with Tom, the trailer skips to the long opulent driveway out to Dickman Island, and from a Wimauma migrant camp to the golf-cart lifestyle in Sun City Center.
It’s diverse. It’s interesting. But most of all, it makes you want to see the video — right now. The trailer will soon be released online on YouTube and other sites which will be made available to readers when they are known.