Lost Springs

An Artist’s Journey into Florida’s Abandoned Springs

Experiencing a landscape scarred and abandoned by government failure, an artist must come to grips with the impending loss of her subject matter: a collection of majestic freshwater springs exposed only for a short time before being smothered and forgotten beneath waters held back by an aging and purposeless dam.

Audience Choice – Cinema Verde Environmental Arts & Film Festival, 2018
Official Selection – Fort Myers Film Festival, 2018
Official Selection – Orlando Film Festival, 2018


Lost Springs follows the inimitable artist Margaret Ross Tolbert as she experiences the magic and beauty of a series of freshwater Florida springs forgotten by the state and left to decay behind a nearly fifty-year-old failure of big government spending. Every three or more years, the water behind the Kirkpatrick Dam in north-central Florida is lowered, exposing an environment that is still raw with both tragedy and hope. This lowering of the water known as a ‘drawdown’ allows more than 20 springs to cough back to life for a short few months before the weight of the water comes back and smothers their flow again.

The film explores themes of loss, wonder and experience in nature as Tolbert joins local and regional experts on a boat trip up the long-fabled Ocklawaha River to witness this newly-revealed, transient landscape and to find the lost springs of the Ocklawaha. The film defends the uniqueness of a free-flowing river and its historical, cultural and recreational importance to the state of Florida. It celebrates the wonder of Florida springs through Tolbert’s original paintings of springs seen only during this short period of time every several years and captivates the viewer with a first-ever filmed cave dive by cave-diving experts Mark Long and Tom Morris.

As more is revealed about the springs, Tolbert is forced to deal with the impacts of industry in her own work, where an emotionally-charged and haunting scene leaves audiences with a visceral connection to this place struggling to recover deep in the floodplain forests of Florida.

Watch Lost Springs [Full Film]

An Artist’s Journey into Florida’s Abandoned Springs

With thanks and dedication to Marjorie Harris Carr and all the brave folks fighting for what is just plain right.

Major funding provided by The Felburn Foundation.
Additional funding provided by AQUIFERious, Florida Defenders of the Environment​, St. Johns Riverkeeper​, Silver Springs Alliance​, Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute​ Putnam County Environmental Council​

Special thanks to Matheson History Museum​, Harn Museum of Art​, University of North Florida​, The Lufrano Intercultural Gallery, MOCA Jacksonville​, Sequential Artists Workshop​

For a wild and free Ocklawaha.

Lost Springs at Fort Myers Film Festival

We are excited to announce that Lost Springs is an official selection of the eighth annual Fort Myers Film Festival!

The festival will be held March 21-25, 2018. More information can be found on their events page: https://www.facebook.com/events/108490883074446/

You can also see the film this upcoming Sunday in Gainesville at the Cinema Verde Environmental Film Festival.

Take action for the restoration of a free-flowing Ocklawaha: http://www.lostsprings.org/action/

Lost Springs at Cinema Verde, Feb. 11, 2018

Lost Springs is an official selection at the 2018 Cinema Verde Environmental Film & Arts Festival in Gainesville, Florida.

The film will be screened at the Heartwood Soundstage on Sunday, February 11th. The screening will begin at 6:20 pm.

Please visit Cinema Verde’s website to purchase tickets. Tickets are $7 (online) and $9 at the door.


Check out the Facebook event for more information.

Closing Comments at Matheson Museum Screening

The Matheson History Museum hosted Lost Springs for an audience screening and panel discussion on Friday, June 23, 2017. The screening was an opportunity to gather feedback which will be used to strengthen the story and structure of the film. More than 210 people viewed the screening. At the end of the evening, Matt Keene delivered the following thanks:

Matheson Director Peggy Macdonald, St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman, Lost Springs Director Matt Keene, springs artist Margaret Tolbert, #UNF Galleries Coordinator Jim Draper and environmentalist Karen Chadwick at the “Lost Springs” audience screening June 23.

There is no other river in Florida like the Ocklawaha.

I doubt there is any river like it in the world.

With Silver Springs–that mighty artesian well–as it’s buttress, with the slow and steady flow of rain percolating from the ancient sand hills of the Lake Wales Ridge, with its dance with the indigenous, the dignitaries, the explorers and the artists.

If I were to anthropomorphise the Ocklawaha, I would say it is selfless and humble, not the least bit boastful as it weaves through the floodplain shade. It is an ancient, ancient river that drained off the newly-emerged land of Florida thousands of years before we occupied this place. In its age and wisdom, it is content to pair itself with the St. Johns and melt into the ocean with no fanfare, at peace with its coastal companion.

The Ocklawaha is a playful and quick river, ready to surprise.

It is a regal river, with that rare quality of cloaking it’s grandeur in the earthy mundane. It embodies that expressiveness one feels when entering a spring or encountering the sacred, that set-back sense of awe, overwhelming in its clarity and rightness.

It is a river willing to carry the burden of our mistakes and will be there with a parental patience, an unreciprocated forgiveness, on that day when we finally right this wrong.

The more I look at this, the more it feels like an obituary.

That has been the sharpest edge in this film, understanding and accepting the tragedy that soaked through every image we captured.

I’ve come to think though, that if this is an obituary it is us who are on the other side, the side of stubborn resistance to preventative measures, to healing. The side of stagnation.

This is, then, and must be, as I hope it is in the film, a celebration of life, a symbolic release of the river we now know, with its roughened body and patchy scabs. With its giant’s stubble, as Margaret so acutely refers to the Drowned Forest.

This is a release to become again what it once was and what it will be long after we are all gone. This is a gesture to that grizzled giant, a token of our understanding of its place in this world and a request for it to continue to reveal its beauty and it’s secrets on every occasion where we take the time to tromp through the cypress and meander along its run.

I’d like to thank Margaret for her magnetic passion in telling this story, in being a part of this story, in recognizing what we’ve lost and pushing for its return. I’d like to thank Karen and Jim for their work, their focus on the issues as well as the structure. Their weaving together of the story we’ve presented. The four of us still have a ways to go before we release the final version, but I couldn’t imagine more capable and insightful partners. I’d also like to thank everyone that’s traveled to see this film and that’s experienced this face of the Ocklawaha that is both so close and so distant, so memorable and so hidden.

Matt Keene discusses the lost springs of the Ocklawaha River.

If you feel the least bit curious or moved, remember that we are fighting for purpose and calling for recovery. Remember that the striped bass and the shad, the mullet and the manatee, still return to that earthen berm, that they are waiting just like us for this river to be free.

Thank you all, deeply, for your support of the Ocklawaha’s Lost Springs.

June 23 Screening and Discussion

A small spring runs out into Cannon Run off the Ocklawaha River.

A screening of Lost Springs will be held on June 23, 2017 at 6pm at the Matheson History Museum in Gainesville, Florida.  Following the screening, there will be a panel discussion with Margaret Tolbert, Captain Karen Chadwick, Lisa Rinaman and Matt Keene.

The screening is free to attend. Short questionnaires about the film will be handed out before the screening in order to receive audience feedback prior to a grand premiere in September of 2017.

More information can be found here.

About Lost Springs

Lost Springs is a documentary film that follows artist Margaret Ross Tolbert as she experiences a collection of freshwater Florida springs normally inaccessible due to a dam. The film explores themes of loss, wonder and experience in nature as it follows the course of a drawdown of the dam’s pool which happens every three or more years, exposing a submerged world normally hidden below the high waters of the dam. Tolbert sketches and paints scenes from this world, looks into the history of the dam and the impacted Ocklawaha River, and joins a team of local and regional experts on a boat trip upriver to witness the revealed and transient landscape and to find the lost springs of the Ocklawaha.

Lost Springs defends the uniqueness of a historic and free-flowing Ocklawaha River and the importance of this river to the state. It celebrates the wonder of Florida springs through Tolbert’s original paintings of the Ocklawaha’s springs and through a first-ever filmed cave dive of the Ocklawaha’s Tobacco Patch Springs by cave-diving experts Mark Long and Tom Morris. It explains the history of the Cross Florida Barge Canal and the environmentalists who stopped its construction, and steps back even further to highlight its significance throughout history as a free-flowing river by speaking with experts about its archaeological, paleontological and indigenous importance and even examines a cultural exploration by former President Ulysses S. Grant and artist Frank Hamilton Taylor.

This is a film that engages its audience through beauty. It was filmed in a manner to showcase the strained and damaged state of the river, but also to show the hopes and joy of those who visit during a drawdown, to show their longing to jump into the river’s springs, to show how experience in nature brings healing and connection. This film will speak to environmentalists, to artists, to historians and to Floridians and visitors that realize the benefit of water based recreation as nature intended. It will be inviting and discernible to those with little to no knowledge of the dam and river. Lost Springs provides a different perspective from typical environmental issue-oriented films. Tolbert’s enthusiasm for springs is magnetic, and personal stories from locals like Captain Erika Ritter are emotionally-charged, braiding together a powerful story with an environmental message. As such, it will provide a new and encouraging entry point for reaching an audience on environmental issues.