We’re always excited to see the selection of Coney Island-themed films at the Coney Island Film Festival. This year, 16 of the 74 selections are categorized as Coney Island films. ATZ selected five –four shorts and one feature– and asked the filmmakers to send a screengrab and tell us how it fit into the film as a whole. The majority of the filmmakers have been working on their films for at least a year with the idea of entering the 12th annual festival, which runs from September 21 through 23 at Coney Island USA. A schedule of film screenings and ticket info is available here.
Jim McDonnell, an amusement park aficionado whose photos and videos of Coney Island appear frequently on ATZ, had this to say about his entry “The Longest Saturday of the Year”: “The film is a 15-minute synopsis of the Saturday of the Mermaid Parade which technically is the longest Saturday of the year as it’s the first Saturday after the Summer Solstice – it covers from dawn to midnight. More than anything it was an exercise/practice attempt at creating a longer piece than I have previously in my goal of creating a true full length piece in the future. While the Mermaid Parade is definitely the centerpiece of the film, I really tried to capture the full day as well as the large cast of characters and places that make Coney Island such a special place to me.”
In previous years at the film festival, Lou Dembrow has shown documentary shorts about John Dorman of Philips Candy of Coney Island, which moved to Staten Island after 54 years in Stillwell Terminal, and Jimmy Prince, who retired from Mermaid Avenue’s Major Market after 60 years. This year, in addition to “Jimmy’s Rant,” also featuring Prince, Lou is showing the 18-minute short “The Wonder Wheel” about Coney Island’s oldest ride and the Vourderis family’s loving and labor-intensive maintenance of it. “Landmarked in 1989, the Wonder Wheel is a beloved Coney Island icon,” says the filmmaker. “The film takes a behind the scenes look at the efforts to preserve the historical aspects while embracing innovation.”
“The film was shot in 2008 and 2009,” says Lou, who has been working on it for the past year while learning Final Cut Pro. “This is just the first Wonder Wheel movie, an exercise really. There is so much to show about the care of the wheel: that’s this coming year’s project. I’m just beginning, I am still learning, I am a passionate amateur. I’ll try my best!”
Brooklyn native and Coney Island regular Jay Singer is a big fan of Scream Zone’s Slingshot. He’s the screamer on the right in the screengrab. “I actually went on it 50 times! Several of my trips are in the movie,” he says of his experimental short “Gotta Love Coney Island,” which is also the name of his website. “The film is only 10 minutes long, but it took me over a year to make, 8 months of editing alone! It is 275 separate scenes at various speeds composited into a ‘one reel’ experimental film. The goal was to capture the ‘pulse’ of Coney Island on a busy day, with intercuts of vintage footage filmed by my grandfather alongside contemporary footage of my own.”
The concept for the film came from a discussion about “the amusement pulse” with Scott Fitlin, the operator and DJ extraordinaire of the Eldorado Bumper Cars. “Originally Scott was going to make the film with me, he contributed a lot of ideas for the basic storyboard and was going to do a sound mix,” says Jay. After Scott’s death in 2010, Jay shelved the project until the birthday gift of a flip video camera reignited his enthusiasm. After the film screening on Sunday, the award ceremony will be at the Eldorado Bumper Cars. There’s also a Saturday night party at the Eldorado Arcade with sideshow entertainers and go-go dancers.
Last September, Jack Kyser created an IndieGoGo campaign which successfully raised funds to produce “The Wheels.” The filmmaker describes his 10 minute narrative short as “a very personal story about an alcoholic father and his young son, and a study of their strained relationship over the course of a long day at an amusement park.” The film won the Best Student Film award at the 2012 Metropolitan Film Festival of New York City for Kyser, a third-year film student at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
“It was such an honor to get to shoot at the Wonder Wheel!” said Kyser, who filmed at the park one day last October. In one of the key scenes the father and son ride a swinging car. In another they play a water race game in the park. “Harry (Daniel Hasse) asks his father, John (Tom Corbisiero) to play a water gun game,” says Kyser. “John, an alcoholic, struggles to shoot the water gun straight, and Harry, humiliated, eventually sprays his father with his gun.”
“The Wheels,” along with “The Longest Saturday of the Year,” “The Wonder Wheel,” and “Gotta Love Coney Island” and four other Coney-themed shorts screen on Sunday, September 23rd at 6pm.
“Lost in Coney Island,” a parody of “The Warriors,” begins with Spade (Eric Rivas) on location in Coney Island ready to shoot a remake of the 1979 cult classic. An argument with his feisty cinematographer and a long-repressed romantic interlude with his production assistant ensue when the actors are late because of a bus accident en route. Life begins to imitate art in the film within a film when the P.A.’s jealous ex incites a real outlaw biker gang to come after the actors. “They were a little more extreme than we were yet we were willing to confront them,” says Rivas. The screengrab above shows the actors playing the Warriors after a training session on the beach.
Rivas, a Brooklynite of Puerto Rican-Argentine heritage tells ATZ that as a teen growing up in Kensington/Boro Park in the late ’80s and early ’90s, he was a member of a crew called the “East 2nd Posse” who identified very deeply with the Warriors. “You stuck together so if anything happened you had each other,” Rivas said. “We considered ourselves The Warriors. We went up against really tough guys. We survived. That’s what life was like growing up in Brooklyn until I was 22 and went on with life.”
For the past decade, making movies has been Rivas’s passion, starting with a video camera on vacation and trading up to a Canon 7-D. During the film shoot, Rivas and his crew struck up a friendship with some of the actors who were the original Warriors. “We’ve got Cleon (Dorsey Wright) and Snow coming to the opening with us and Apache and Cochese (David Harris) hanging with us on Saturday,” says Rivas. “Lost in Coney Island” screens on Saturday, September 22nd at 4pm on a program with five Coney-themed shorts. The Coney Island Film Festival’s annual screening of “The Warriors” is also on Saturday at 10:30pm.
Related posts on ATZ…
September 13, 2012: Video: Coney Island Dancing 2012 by Jim McDonnell
January 27, 2011: Video: Coney Island: Secrets of the Universe by Charles Denson
September 27, 2010: Video: The Museum of Wax by Charles Ludlam