A nifty portrait of a most unusual burg, “Gibtown” takes an uncondescending gander at Gibsonton, the Florida hamlet where off-season carny workers have come to roost for decades. Charming 16mm docu is a natural fit for nonfiction fest and broadcast berths.
Gibsonton was an ordinary backwater before one married carny-circuit couple retired there to open a bar-restaurant in the ’30s. Others followed, figuring, “This place is still small and obscure enough that we’re left well enough alone.” Public contempt toward freak show, carnival and circus workers made a self-contained community attractive. Eventually the town passed zoning laws geared to their needs — accommodating giant roller coasters that needed to be stored for the winter, as well as between-gigs elephants, tigers and other animals. At one point “Gibtown’s” fire chief was 8-foot-4, its police chief a midget. Rather than hone in on the bizarre, pic offers a respectful if slightly wide-eyed portrait of very normal, close-knit working-class lives beneath the unusual surface. Archival stills, newsreels and promo clips recall this vanishing subculture’s 1920s-30s heyday; atmospheric color lensing and ditto soundtrack music lend a raffish, Tom Waits-like nostalgic flavor to modern-day segs.