“The most mesmerizing part of the mermaids’ performance is their ability to remain so poised in the water.” Florida-born, NYC filmmaker, Delaney Buffett — director and writer of THE SPRING — clearly knew she had landed in a magical universe of sorts, when she came upon the subject of her movie, both Weeki Wachi Springs and the legendary women who channel both their inner and outer mermaid, doing daily choreographed shows there, with music surrounding, limited air, and full on fish-tails. Delaney further shares, “For the full thirty minutes, they carry on underwater as if they are on land, smiling with their eyes open.” We caught up with Delaney to hear more about the ethereal, beautifully bizarre universe she dove into at Weeki Wachi Springs alongside with seven other young female filmmakers, as the crew, to document the mermaids at work!” By: Lisa Collins
THE SPRING Q&A with Delaney Buffett for Visionaire
LISA COLLINS: Can you share with us, the origins of the otherworldly Weeki Wachee Springs?
DELANEY BUFFETT: Weeki Wachee is a tourist attraction in Central Florida where women perform as mermaids in a natural spring that contains a custom built, underwater theater. After the park opened in 1947, it became one of America’s most popular tourist stops — attracting celebrities like Elvis Presley! Back in the 1960s, women came all the way from Japan to audition at the hopes of becoming one of the legendary mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs.
LC: Your very first impression when you landed in Weeki?
DB: When we drove into the parking lot of Weeki Wachee for the first time, we all thought that it looked like a typical roadside, water park from our childhoods. However, once we entered the theater and saw the show, we could not believe that this spring and its mermaids existed literally ten feet off a strip of highway?! When you watch the performances and meet the people, you realize that you’ve entered this time capsule of Old Florida — a world of rustic pinks and blues, where at any moment a manatee might pop up and share a swim with the sun burnt tourists.
LC: You filmed with 7 other female filmmakers! What was your process?
DB: From the beginning, Chloe Corner [producer/writer], Katie Corwin [associate producer/writer], and I had a vision for an entirely female crew to make the trip down to Weeki Wachee to interview these women. However, gathering this crew was easier said than done, because female cinematographers, camera assistants and sound mixers are few and far between in the film industry. But, in the end, we were able to connect and work with seven incredibly talented women who made the shoot such a unique experience.
LC: We’re curious — given what the legendary ladies don – how long is their mermaid costume/make-up prep time?
DB: Before each show, the mermaids spend about thirty minutes of prep on hair, make up and costumes. While they do use waterproof eye makeup, they do not have any special waterproof primer or setting spray. When we asked about the secrets of underwater makeup, they told us that they have mastered the art of caking it on so thickly that it will withhold the entire, thirty minute underwater performance!
LC: Your thoughts — why mermaid mythology and popularity endures?
DB: I feel like so many people are fascinated with mermaids because of the seductive nature of sirens; however, for me, there is something so wonderfully freeing about the idea of these wild and uninhibited creatures being part human yet having the ability to do and explore so many places and things that people cannot.
LC: After spending time filming the ladies of Weeki, what’s a similar quality you’ve observed in the ‘mermaids’, regardless of age?
DB: Whether these women were born ‘water babies’, or their lives as mermaids have encouraged them to become ‘water people’, all of the Weeki Wachee mermaids, regardless of age, share this feeling of being more at home in the spring, than on land. I believe that this powerful connection to the spring, in turn, creates this shared and unique experience — despite the generational gap — of genuinely loving where they are, and what they do.