Childhood Memories
of a young boy on the Ocklawaha River
Watch Trailer
A Musical Journey
through time and history
Tales of a River
and the people yearning to be free
A Musical Masterpiece
based on the childhood memories of John D. Gottsch.
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About The Film

Florida Defenders of the Environment has begun production on the documentary, “Ocklawaha: Tales My Father Told,” inspired by the symphonic poem by the same name composed by John Gottsch. Production began in January when FDE funded the video recording of the premiere of Gottsch’s work by the South Florida Symphony led by its music director, Sebrina Alfonso. Gottsch is the Symphony’s composer-in-residence. When I learned that the premiere would be at the New World Center in Miami where concerts can be professionally recorded by the Center’s 15-camera, Hi Def video production team, generous donors quickly responded with the funds we needed for the New World shoot.

I learned that the symphonic poem was inspired by Gottsch’s youthful travels on the Ocklawaha with his father, who shared campfire tales with his son recalling the rich natural and human history of this storied waterway. Following long exchanges with the composer, I realized that the tales Gottsch’s father told captured the wonders of the Ocklawaha from the perspective of a young boy who first knew the river when it truly ran free, before the boondoggle Cross Florida Barge Canal had carved two ditches into interior Florida and FDE founder Marjorie Harris Carr and her army of volunteers successfully fought for the Canal’s deauthorization in 1990. Two remnant dams impede the natural flow of the river to this day. Young John revisited the river when in high school, and the sight of the dam and the tales his father had told of the troubled history of Indians and enslaved blacks who had lived and died along its bank, haunted Gottsch into his upward years and inspired the creation of this landmark work.

As writer/producer, I translated the composer’s notes for the “vignettes” that weave his father’s tales into the score where the musical instrumentation—stirring strings, blaring trumpets, booming tympani—will be visually matched by the award-winning wildlife cinematography of Ocala-based director of photography, Mark Emery. Editing the musical, visual and narrative elements is Dan Bramm, who I worked with on the Emmy Award-winning Expedition Florida series we produced for the Florida Museum of Natural History.

I wanted to make a film I would have liked to see if I was a young kid who may have never spent time on the Ocklawaha or learned the rich history of those who lived, fished and hoped to live freely on this pristine jewel of a waterway. Composer John Gottsch shared that he hopes “music will bring young viewers closer to nature, and nature will bring them closer to music.” I look forward to working with John and FDE to develop a STEAM curriculum that will marry science and art to inspire a new generation of Ocklawaha stewards.

The documentary is funded in part by the Marion Cultural Alliance and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Felburn Foundation, Duke Energy and FDE members and supporters. The film is also funded by the generous contribution of our members.

John D. Gottsch

John D. Gottsch,  was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and shortly afterwards his family moved to Florida. He spent his youth in the lake country of Florida on the watch for alligators while swimming and always looking down in woods and swamps to avoid rattlesnakes and water moccasins. He traveled many of the rivers of the state which would begin in the back country and eventually empty into the Gulf or the Atlantic. These explorations of Florida gave him an enduring love for the beauty and wildlife of the state. See more at:

Peter Coyote
American Actor, Director, Author and Zen, Buddhist Priest.


Peter Coyote is an American Actor, director and accomplished narrator of films. theatre, televison and audiobooks. He worked on film, such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Cross Creek, Jagged Edge, Erin Brockovich and Femme Fatale among others. His narration work include productions with National Geographic, and PBS.  Learn More at

Dan Bramm
Cinematographer, Director, Editor

Dan Bramm is a Florida based DP with 20 years experience shooting spots, documentaries and high end corporate videos. Dan Bramm worked with producer Steve Robitaille as cinematographer, director and editor on the multiple Emmy Award-winning Expedition Florida series for the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, Florida. See more at

Mark Emery
Wildlife Filmmaker

Mark Emery is an independent filmmaker who grew up in central Florida in the sixties and early seventies. He worked early on wrestling alligators and milking rattlesnakes for a living at Ross Allen’s Reptile Institute at Silvers Springs. Mark works as a wildlife shooter for National Geographic spending summers in Alaska. He has made many films on different species from crocodiles, fish, Grizzly bears to manatees. He has shot in Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica and Argentina as well as several countries in Africa. His images have appeared in the National Geographic Magazine, Nat Geo online, London Times, Outside magazine, Outdoor life, Field and Stream, Florida Sportsmen, Northwest Fly fishing and in many national and international. See more at:

Steve Robitaille
Author, Producer

Steve Robitaille was born in 1949, the year television came to his childhood home in Miami, Florida. He began studies in journalism and wrote for the Florida Alligator at the University of Florida. He earned a Masters and PhD in English, and taught English and Media Studies for 25 years. He’s an Emmy Award-winning documentary producer. He and his wife, Julie, live in Gainesville, Florida and spend their summers in a remote fishing village in Nova Scotia. They have two sons, Jean Paul and Jordan. See more at


The documentary is funded in part by the Marion Cultural Alliance and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Felburn Foundation, Duke Energy and FDE members and supporters. The film is also funded by the generous contribution of our members.

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