Great Florida Cattle Drive: Unbroken Circles

Florida is known for its beaches, amusement parks, retiree communities and cowboys. Yep, cowboys. Most folks don’t associate cowboys with Florida. So, where you have cowboys you have cows, horses, ranches and trucks. Yep, lots of cattle. With agriculture in Florida being one of its top industries to feed 20 million people in this state. As well as distributing its products across the country and the world, why not tell a story of the legacy featuring the pioneering spirit showcasing the 500 years of cattle in Florida with the reenactment of 1800s cattle drive in 2016.
The mission of the Great Florida Cattle Drive: Unbroken Circles is to share Florida’s unique cow culture and heritage through living history. The goal for Live Oak Production Group was to capture a week of showcasing the lifestyle of the working Florida cowhunters moving cattle across private and public lands from St. Cloud (just south of Orlando) to Kenansville in January 2016. This story is much more than a week of educating people about historical accounts. One important element of the project is to educate the public about the 500 years of cattle and horses in Florida. The project presents a time line along with maps and information that follows the cattle from the 1500’s to the current operations in Florida.

One featured story in the film is following the group of wounded veterans with Operation Outdoor Freedom and four boys from the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch. The relations, healing, and bonding is an emotional story that brings hope and encouragement. The highlights the combat-wounded veterans and details their struggles of going on a cattle drive in Florida in mid-winter: the rain, the wet, and the cold.

Lifestyle, heritage, and culture: The Great Florida Cattle Drive: Unbroken Circles is an hour-long documentary about a modern-day cattle drive and the history of cattle in Florida. Cattle first arrived in Florida almost 500 years ago, and the film reveals how this long history connects to present-day cow culture. The Great Florida Cattle Drive: Unbroken Circles will leave viewers with a better understanding of how cattle shaped modern Florida. Florida is more that beaches, Disney World and theme parks. Florida has many large working cattle ranches that helps to feed the world.

  • Elam Stoltzfus
    Coastal Dune Lakes: Jewels of the Emerald Coast, Florida Wildlife Corridor: Everglades to Okeefenokee, Big Cypress Swamp: the Western Everglades
  • Nic Stoltzfus
    Coastal Dune Lakes: Jewels of the Emerald Coast
  • Elam Stoltzfus
    Coastal Dune Lakes: Jewels of the Emerald Coast, Florida Wildlife Corridor: Everglades to Okeefenokee, Big Cypress Swamp: the Western Everglades
  • Baxter Black, Narrator
    Key Cast
    NPR, Journalist, Western Horseman
  • J.Robert Houghtaling, Musician
    Key Cast
    Florida Fiddler, Florida Folk Music
  • Doyle Conner, Jr., Historian & Cowboy Poet
    Key Cast
    Manager of the Great Florida Cattle Drives
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    56 minutes 40 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    February 4, 2017
  • Production Budget:
    120,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    Sony slog3 4K
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Great Florida Cattle Drive - Premiere Screening
    United States
    February 18, 2017
  • Cattle Drive Reunion Ride 2017
    Palmdale, FL
    United States
    March 11, 2017
  • Telly Silver screenwriting award
    United States
    March 18, 2017
    Silver award for screenwriting
  • Telly Bronze - Documentary
  • Telly Bronze - Cinematography
  • Best Florida Project, Finalist Central Florida Film Festival
  • Best Documentary, Finalist Central Florida Film Festival
Director Biography - Elam Stoltzfus

Elam Stoltzfus is the founder of Live Oak Production Group. Originally born Amish in Lancaster, PA, Elam moved to Florida, received his degree in media production at Florida State University, and decided to focus his camera on Florida. For over thirty years he has been documenting the wilds of Florida. During this time, he has produced seven feature-length films: Living Waters: Aquatic Preserves of Florida, Apalachicola River: An American Treasure, The Big Cypress Swamp: The Western Everglades, Kissimmee Basin: The Northern Everglades, Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition: Everglades to Okefenokee, Coastal Dune Lakes: Jewels of Florida’s Emerald Coast, and The Great Florida Cattle Drive: Unbroken Circles. Collectively, these films won 16 Tellys, 3 Davies, and one Emmy, and all of them have been featured on public television.

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Director Statement

I started in film-making 30 years ago in LA. Lower Alabama, that is. I first picked up a camera in 1984 working for WeCare, a prison ministry in Atmore. Since them, I have been filming and producing video content. In 1988 I received my bachelor’s degree in communication from Florida State University and started Live Oak Production Group, an independent film company, in 1991. Since then I has produced countless shorts, 7- hour-long documentaries featured on Public Television, and recently garnered an Emmy for the work on the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition: Everglades to Okefenokee film. Florida Wildlife Federation recognized me as the 2014 Conservationist of the Year for Florida. This award means just as much or more than the Emmy because it validates my work not just as a film-maker, but as an artist striving to protect Florida’s natural beauty.
In a surprising and a revealing way, the Great Florida Cattle Drive brought some of my childhood memories into focus. To explain, travel with me on a journey that begins in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in the late 1950s. I was born into an Old Order Amish family with seven sisters and one brother. I was number four, the first son after three older sisters. Horses were the source of transportation to Sunday church, to the local store and equipment supply center. We used mules and draft horses on the farm to pull the plow, work the hay machinery and transport harvested produce. At age eight I had my first Shetland pony, an ornery stud. Riding Billy (the pony) bareback was a thrill for this young Amish boy. Today I still have some scars from a few wrecks, a crooked nose from a broken bone, and scars on my knees from a few falls. Later, my Dad bought a small cart and harness to hitch to the pony. My sisters and I enjoyed riding to my grandparents, picking up staples at the local country store, and riding around the hay fields on the farm. When I got older, I had my own horse that I trained so I could ride around on the farm.
During my teenage years, the last thing I wanted to see was the backside of a horse. Sure, I wanted horsepower, but one horse wasn’t enough. I traded in my horse for a muscle car that boosted over 200 horsepower: a 1970 Plymouth Duster, black with white racing stripes.
As I become a young adult, I joined a gospel band and traveled the country, got married, got my GED, and finished college with a degree in communication from Florida State University. For almost 25 years I had very little to do with horses and cattle—I was more interested in travel; art; making documentaries of Florida; and raising my two kids, Nic and Laura. During the 2013 Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, I rode a horse on several occasions. My love for the equine species had been dormant, but being back on the saddle brought back fond memories of riding horses as a young boy, and I yearned for a horse of my own. Little did I know that wish soon would come true.
A few months before the 2016 cattle drive, our neighbors told us about a problem they had: they wanted to move their quarter horse, Lefty, closer to home, but didn’t have the land to do so. We offered a few acres of our land so they could build a fence and barn. After completing them, the day arrived for Lefty to settle in to his new home. But when it was time to be unloaded from the trailer, Lefty refused. I talked to him a bit and he followed me off the trailer. From the day he arrived, it was like he chose me to be his human.
Since then, Lefty has been a constant reminder of my roots and heritage. We go on early morning and evening sunset rides around the back pasture and woods. Seeing the world between the ears of a horse is therapeutic, and I am reminded that everything is going to work out fine, and that life is good. Recently I’ve been working with Lefty on how to work with me while I have a camera on hand. Who knows, maybe I’ll have him trained well enough to go on the next Great Florida Cattle Drive.
For me, things have come full circle: I’m back in the saddle, riding the trails, making memories, and making sure the circle will be unbroken.