Mercer Alumnus Films Documentary, Photo Series on Deserted Island


By Jamie Dickson

Ethan “Carter” McCormick, CLA '12, got the opportunity of a lifetime last year when he spent the month of September filming and photographing in Dry Tortugas National Park, a chain of seven islands in the Gulf of Mexico. The park, which is 70 miles from Key West, is only accessible by boat or seaplane.

McCormick and his partner, Paula Sprenger, were selected from a pool of more than 400 applicants for an arts residency program sponsored by the National Parks Arts Foundation. “For 2016, it was the most applied for artist's residency in the United States,” he said.

McCormick and Sprenger lived on Loggerhead Key, which is named after the sea turtle that lays its eggs on the island. The island is truly deserted; the only structures still found on the narrow strip of land include a non-operational lighthouse, built in 1858, and a lightkeeper's house, where the artists lived.

McCormick said he wanted to create a film that demonstrated the effect man has on the environment. “Dry Tortugas is the epitome of a deserted island,” he said. “There are ruins on there. There's no humans to speak of. I wanted to make a film about how the impacts of man would still remain on the island for hundreds of years.”

At Mercer, McCormick majored in media production, a course of study he created with approval of the dean. “I always wanted to do wildlife and environmental film, but I love Mercer's education, so I thought if I could get a liberal arts degree from Mercer but still be a well-rounded person in media and production, then that would be the best thing suited for my educational needs,” he said. 

McCormick said by the end of the residency, the filmmakers logged more than 2,500 video clips. He used the time on the island to see how productive he could be with little to no distractions. “That was the big social experiment for me. I was just thinking – if I can do what I love to do for a month without any interruptions and just see how productive I can be – just seeing what I could accomplish in that scenario – that was a big win for me. Also, I think our film really turned out spectacular,” he said.

Mercer is truly woven into the film's production. While on the island, McCormick met a fellow Mercer alumnus who was sailing near the island over Labor Day weekend, and Mercer's McDuffie Center for Strings will be included on the soundtrack.

Last October, NPR aired a story about McCormick and his time on the island. McCormick is working to produce more international films in 2017.