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Gainesville Native Creates Short Film About Daytona Drive-In Church

Lauren DeFilippo participates in a Q-and-A after the premiere of her short film, Clean Hands, at Gallery Protocol. The audience asked questions about the film, her filmmaking process, and the history of the church. Jenny Clements/ WUFT News
Lauren DeFilippo participates in a Q-and-A after the premiere of her short film, Clean Hands, at Gallery Protocol. The audience asked questions about the film, her filmmaking process, and the history of the church. Jenny Clements/ WUFT News

Lauren DeFilippo created her short film, "Clean Hands," with a philosophy in mind: “Film what you love and hate at the same time,” she said.

The film features the Daytona Beach Drive-In Christian Church. DeFilippo said she felt the church was a cinematic experience and wanted to explore and share this spiritual experience through film.

"Clean Hands" premiered Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m. at Gallery Protocol, a Gainesville contemporary art gallery. After the premiere, the film was shown through Nov. 3 at the gallery from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. on a loop for visitors.

The film's premiere exceeded expectations, according to Gallery Protocol director Chase Westfall, and had a larger turnout than estimated. DeFilippo, a Gainesville native, noted that University of Florida professors, students, her friends, and even older community members attended the event.

Westfall said that even after the premiere, attendance numbers were sustained throughout the rest of the film's showing through Tuesday.

The premiere of "Clean Hands" was the first time that the gallery was set up to highlight a single film production and, with this success, the gallery hopes to feature more film exhibits and events in the future.

Over the next year, DeFilippo said she wants to apply for a spot with her short film in Florida, national, and international film festivals.

Most recently, her films were shown at the Sarasota International Film Festival and the Palm Beach International Film Festival. With "Clean Hands," she is applying for Florida festivals, many of which are held during the winter and spring, especially to connect the Florida-based topic with those viewers.

"Film festivals are central to making small budget documentary and non-fiction films," she said. "They give short films life beyond the big screen."

Gainesville resident Joe Wolf attended the premiere. Wolf grew up in Daytona Beach and frequently visited the church property on weekdays to play with friends. He said his family lived about a block away from the property.

"We walked down as a family and cut through the woods to get to the church," Wolf said. "A lot of people who went were from the community."

After viewing the film at the premiere, Wolf said that the film accurately portrayed what he remembered of the church and its services.

One of the memories that stuck with him was the church handing out small plastic communion cups to each person as they drove or walked through the property gates, he said. The cups held grape juice and had a small lid with a bread wafer resting on top for attendees to participate in communion.

The film showed a practice that is still carried out every service, he said.

DeFilippo moved back to the area after completing her Master of Fine Arts in documentary film and video from Stanford University. She searched for an interesting short-film topic and found the drive-in church.

“This was a kind of homegrown project with me setting out to make a film of something in my own backyard and having some great, talented people in town helping me do so,” she said. “I think it seems appropriate to have it at Gallery Protocol and be a part of the art community here.”

Every Sunday, congregation members and visitors, oftentimes tourists, filter through the church’s three gates to attend a morning service.

But, instead of listening to the weekly sermon from a pew, attendees sit comfortably in their cars.

From Toyota Camrys to Corvettes, a parade of cars makes its way through a large field to find a space facing the center building where the pastor will speak. Attendees tune their radios to 88.5 FM as the pastor steps out on the building’s balcony and the service and its broadcast begins.

“There was something about the drive-in church that really struck a note in terms of that it was so strange to me that somebody would want to go and sit in their car and have a spiritual experience,” DeFilippo said.

After experiencing the church herself and meeting the members, DeFilippo said she wanted to explore the spiritual experience – how people choose to isolate themselves and the universal relationship with their spiritual lives in the context of the drive-in church.

The title, "Clean Hands," comes from the Rev. Bob Kemp-Baird’s sermon, DeFilippo said. He spoke about technology and its effect on everyone’s lives by preventing people from connecting to things spiritually.

“Repeatedly he says, ‘We need to come clean. We need to have clean hands and pure hearts,’” DeFilippo said. “It was really that theme that stuck with me throughout.”

Her goal was to make the film a sensory experience with this theme in mind.

She worked with local musician and Cretin Girls band member Hector Laguna to write an original score that fit the mood of the film.

“To me, the service puts you into a different space mentally,” she said. “And so it helped create that experience of now we’re kind of hearing what this priest is saying and entering into this other state. It’s almost a little trance-like. It’s a little hypnotic.”

DeFilippo and Laguna used synthesizers and guitar to make an atmospheric "soundscape," Laguna said.

“She told me that she wanted to point out in her movie how weird it was that the drive-in church was in somewhere like Daytona,” Laguna said. “I just looked at the clips and I played some music to it and see what would fit into what was playing onscreen.”

Laguna said the recording process took about two hours to complete.

DeFilippo began developing the film during her summer residency in Gallery Protocol’s FERMENTER program. The program allows local artists to use the gallery’s open studio spaces and develop their individual crafts, she said.

She said she was the first filmmaker admitted into the program.  

DeFilippo said she set a goal to create a short film — her first short film since graduating with her masters from Stanford.

Westfall saw a draft of the film during her residency. He said it was a “no brainer” to work with DeFilippo to screen the final cut of the film.

“By presenting in the gallery, hopefully we can reinforce the artistry and the value conceptually that the piece has more than maybe it’s cinematic value,” Westfall said.

Jenny is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.