New film explores the 'Hidden Wild' in Florida

Much of Florida is still more than a little wild, and that makes it wonderful. 

This is the theme of Hidden Wild, a newly released film that follows the journey of three South Florida high school students -- Noah, Kiana, and Kourtez -- on a 7-day trek to experience the nearby wilderness. Viewers can witness the teens’ transformative travels through swamp, scrub, and sand to a realization that the image of the Sunshine State as wholly beach-centric doesn't hold true. Wild Florida, the students decide, is beyond memorable. It’s a landscape worth preserving. 

“This is so much more than an adventure film,” says Tampa native and Hidden Wild guide and narrator Alex (Morrison) Freeze, a science and environment educator. “It showcases in a spectacular way what can happen when a community invests in protecting its natural treasures.”

The film was produced by Days Edge Productions and directed by Neil Losin and Nate Dappen; it was executive produced by Benji Studt, public outreach program supervisor for the Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Services Resources Management, and Sergio Piedra, director of community engagement & advocacy for Discover the Palm Beaches. It took years to complete and soon will become part of Palm Beach County public school curriculum as required learning for all 7th- and 10th-grade students.

Throughout its 26-minute duration, Hidden Wild immerses viewers through crisp cinematography as the young trekkers find increasing delight in their surroundings. The three serve as protagonists (though a case can be made for the scene-stealing Florida scrub-jays) and exude a palpable sense of adventure as they hike, bike, and kayak through controlled burns and interconnected ecosystems. What they discover is a far cry from the classic Florida marketing narrative focused on cruise ships, golf courses, and, of course, beaches.

“People have an inherently negative view of swamps and marshes, which make up so much of what makes Florida special,” Studt says. “If we can break down those mental barriers and show young people that wild Florida isn’t a place to be feared … we can really begin to see our communities with a stronger sense of place.”

Protecting natural areas isn’t just about saving land for wildlife, Freeze reminds us onscreen, but for people as well. A densely populated state, Florida adds a thousand more people to its population daily. Development far outpaces conservation, which the film showcases by juxtaposing aerial shots of high-rises with pictures of adjacent wetlands and tributaries. For thousands of years, a naturally wild Florida reigned supreme; it has taken only about a century or so for that to drastically change.

Creating a natural sense of place

“Throughout this wave of discovery, we can create a sense of place that isn’t defined by what humans have built over the last hundred years, but that is defined by what has made Florida special for thousands of years,” Studt says of Hidden Wild’s impact.

Viewing wild places as part of what makes Florida special is the first step. Next, Studt hopes, youth will teach others what they have learned. Hopefully, that should result in overwhelming community support to protect, nurture and restore the wild spaces that remain.

Freeze, a 6th generation Floridian and self-proclaimed ‘lover of Wild Florida,’ agrees.

She has trekked the swamps of South Florida as a field assistant, taught environmental biology at Radford University as an adjunct professor, and currently serves as an assistant researcher and science communicator in Virginia at the Center for Animal Human Relationships. She spent her childhood exploring Little Gasparilla and roaming the palmettos and oak hammocks outside Bradenton.

Hidden Wild is a taste of the joy being immersed in the outdoors can bring, if we only take a moment to go exploring ourselves,” she says.

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Read more articles by Amy Hammond.

Amy Hammond is a freelance writer and author of children’s books that encourage the next generation to attend college. When not indoctrinating youth about the necessity of higher education, she enjoys exploring the paradise that is her St. Petersburg home. She holds a degree in Public Relations from the University of Florida and a Masters in Secondary English Education from the University of South Florida. Her work has appeared in such venues as the Tampa Bay Times. Children’s Book Titles by Amy Hammond include: When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Gator; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a ‘Nole; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Bull; When I Grow Up, I’m Bama Bound; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Tiger.