Sarasota, Florida, 1970. A park called Floridaland lures tourists off Tamiami Trail with a promise of “Everything Under the Sun.” A young man named Malcolm gets a photography gig at the park. A female park worker courts him. He falls for her. In many ways, it’s a typical boy-meets-girl story … only, the girl isn’t human.
Malcom Brenner has been interviewed by Vice, Jezebel and other online magazines since publishing his 2009 book, “Wet Goddess,” a memoir of his nine-month involvement, which he refers to as a consensual relationship, with Dolly the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. Yes, it was consummated.
But now, thanks to a 15-minute documentary by Kareem Tabsch and Joey Daoud, which premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival and won the Jury Honorable Mention for Documentary Short, the story has been getting even more attention. “Dolphin Lover” is part of the Sarasota film Festival’s Midnight Shorts program.
At the Sunday night showing of the shorts, Malcolm was present and took questions from the audience afterward. We had a few more for him.
Unravel: The Sunday shorts showing was your first time seeing the documentary with an audience, and fielding questions afterward. How was that experience for you?
Malcolm: Seeing the documentary in a theater with an audience was an engaging and somewhat uplifting experience for me, because I never know how people are going react to my story. Hearing them laugh at the funny parts (the old footage of a chimp feeding a dolphin, for instance) released a lot of stress. I think Kareem and Joey did an incredibly good job of crafting that film from the hours of interview footage we shot, because it engages the audience and actually manages to change some people’s opinion. Nobody screamed at the screen, and nobody got up and walked out.
When dealing with a highly charged topic like zoophilia, which generates knee-jerk reactions, I think that’s a triumph. … I thought I had long ago given up looking for outside validation of my experience, but hearing the mostly positive responses from the audience was oddly reassuring. Maybe people are ready for this story.
You talk a lot about the plight of dolphins. If you could change just one thing about dolphins’ treatment in this world, what would you change?
What would I change in the dolphins’ world? That’s a difficult one because I see so many threats to dolphins, some general, some specific to a given location. However, one wish that could actually come true is if people would quit interacting with them. Quit trying to touch them, quit chasing them on jet skis, quit feeding them especially, and reel in their fishing gear when dolphins show up.
The Sarasota Dolphin Research Program has documented that more than a third of the dolphins in Sarasota Bay show evidence of inappropriate contact with humans and have the scars to prove it. Their lives are hard enough as it is, and it’s changing them from healthy hunters into wounded beggars. People need to leave them the fuck alone and clean up their marine environment, since the dolphins can’t do it for themselves.
… Dolly was not a wild dolphin. She was trained to tolerate human contact and was the dolphin trainer’s choice when someone wanted to swim with the dolphins. She solicited human touch, which wild dolphins, even beggars, generally won’t do; in fact, several people have been hurt trying to touch or feed wild dolphins. Of course if a wild dolphin solicits human contact, that’s a different matter; then we have to ask why, and what has gone so wrong with the dolphin’s social life that it is slumming among the human beings.
My understanding is that “Wet Goddess” is a memoir, though names have been changed to protect the innocent, so to speak.
I hewed as close to the truth as I could without getting sued by anybody. I would say the story has 90-95 percent fidelity to events as I remember them. Any changes I made were incidental and minor, to make the story flow more smoothly.
You said Sunday night that you’re working on a book about a woman’s UFO experience. Can you share more about that project? Do you have an anticipated publication date?
About the UFO book, I don’t want to share too much at this time because it is in a state of flux. Although I have a first draft written, I am not sure about the title or even the characters’ names. It is a piece of fiction, but like all fiction it is based in some sense in reality.
The UFO phenomenon has fascinated me all my life, and the question of finding intelligent life in outer space is complementary to the challenge of understanding intelligent, non-human life like the dolphins here on this planet. I will try to find a publisher for this book, as I did for “Wet Goddess” and my second book, “Growing Up In The Orgone Box,” but given the uncertainties of the publishing market I have no idea if or when it will sell. If it doesn’t sell, I’ll publish it myself as I did for the other two books.
(“Growing Up in the Orgone Box” is Malcolm’s memoir of the childhood abuse he endured at the hands of a psychotherapist. He sees this abuse as the probable root of his zoophilia.)
What did you think of the other films in the Midnight Shorts lineup?
My impression of the other films in the Shorts 8 Midnight program is best summed up by a remark I made to Kareem about halfway through the presentation, “I think they put all the edgy stuff in one night.” I had a lot of very visceral reactions to these films …. They were all very well crafted, but some made me squirm.
(SFF programmer Caley Fagerstrom acknowledged that “Dolphin Lover” was put in the Midnight Shorts program, rather than a documentary set, because of the nature of its subject matter.)
IF YOU GO: The Midnight Shorts program airs again at 10 p.m. Thursday. Joey Daoud will be present at the screening.