Reflections of an Artist in Residence

TSKW’s first filmmaker in residence, Wendy Jo Carlton, reflects on her time in Key West

I first learned about The Studios of Key West when the feature film I directed, Hannah Free, was slated to screen at the Tropic Cinema as part of the annual WomenFest. I was invited to spend two weeks as an artist-in-residence during that time, and I feel lucky to have been part of what is clearly a fantastic organization and a very engaged community.

I wasn’t prepared for the stifling midday heat in September, but I soon adapted by working on my screenplay during the hottest time, then breaking around 5pm to ride bikes with my girlfriend to the beach at Fort Taylor State Park. We swam and watched the sunset almost every evening, then had delicious food and drink at whatever lovely restaurant piqued our interest. The fresh fish, shrimp, fruit, and café Cubano became staples, as did the rejuvenating al fresco dining.

The evenings were a glorious time to explore on our bikes, tooling down beachfronts, side streets and alleyways as if we knew where we were going. It felt like the best parts of summer when I was a teenager—when it’s easier to really be in the moment. One of our favorite routes circled the Cemetery, where lightning flashes in the sky above fluttered like Morse code signals from ocean gods.

Honestly, if it hadn’t been so hot, I wouldn’t have been as productive as I was (as the island is a natural place for all sorts of adventures). We went snorkeling and spotted stingrays, a nurse shark, and a sea turtle, along with fish and sea urchins. We also went kayaking around a gorgeous mangrove island, where several types of birds were going about their day. Amazing.

Key West was socially inviting and stimulating whenever I was ready for it. On one particular night, a Cuban-American couple, who had seen my film, called out from Kelly’s bar and asked us to join them for a drink. After great conversation about art and politics, we all walked along the marina, and watched a fresh crop of tourists eat conch fritters for the first time. Even after one week, I didn’t feel like a tourist any more, because I felt grounded by TSKW and by the hospitality of my time in a small cottage at the Heritage House. It was an honor to learn about Jesse and Jeane Porter and the cultural history of Key West, and to be a tiny part of it somehow.

What impresses me most about TSKW is the sense of abundance and community. You have created an environment that is incredibly nurturing and supportive for artists. The residency helped me focus on current project, a feature screenplay about two working class women whose friendship changes as their paths diverge in the summer after high school. It was great to network with other writers and organizers, visitors and residents—whom I plan to stay in contact with. My two weeks at the Southernmost Point encouraged me in my practice as a filmmaker by providing solitary creative time, but also by inspiring me to continue to produce work that I can offer back to the community.

The Studios of Key West