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The house under the roller coaster in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” was the real life home for 40 years of Mae Timpano, who shares vivid memories of good times and sad in this 2005 documentary by Lila Place. “If the wind was blowing towards the house, I heard everything going on in Coney Island,” says Timpano in the film. For most of those years under the Thunderbolt, her companion was Freddy Moran, who owned and operated the famed coaster built by his father over the Kensington Hotel in 1925. She recalls the two of them going for swims to the end of Steeplechase Pier at 2AM after she got off work as a waitress.

“Mae’s story is a window onto a lost world and makes us think about the importance of place in a new way,” says the film-maker. In addition to Timpano’s candid reminiscences, the 16-minute documentary includes interviews with family, friends and historians as well as old news clips. Moran tells a TV reporter asking about changes in Coney Island: “Roller coasters are a very, very stable element of the amusement business and I don’t see any way they’re going to be replaced by anything else and give the same feeling.” But after Moran died in 1982, the coaster closed and would never reopen.

Timpano was a spirited survivor who lived alone in the house for several more years. “I got used to the quietness,” she says, just as she had gotten used to the clatter of the roller coaster passing overhead and finding wigs and dentures lost by riders in her backyard. Horace Bullard, who bought the Thunderbolt and other properties with the dream of rebuilding Steeplechase Park, once said of Timpano: “She’s Miss Coney Island. When you get close to her, you get sort of the feeling of what Coney Island used to be like.”

Timpano, who died five years ago, outlived the coaster and her former home, which were controversially and illegally demolished in 2000 on the orders of Mayor Giuliani.

“Under the Roller Coaster” won a number of awards including Best Made in Coney Island Film at the Coney Island Film Festival (2005) and Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Short at Slamdance (2006).

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January 5, 2011: ATZ Saturday Matinee: Shorty at Coney Island

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NY State Pavilion

Ruins of the New York State Pavilion from the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Flushing Meadows Park, Queens. Photo by Matthew Silva via Kickstarter

You cannot think of Coney Island without the Parachute Jump, especially now that it is illuminated nightly. Last night, it was bathed in sea green and blue light to celebrate the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl win. But the iconic tower, which was moved to Coney after first thrilling visitors at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair in Queens, stopped operating as a ride after Steeplechase Park closed in 1964. The Jump endured nearly 40 years of neglect and threats of demolition before being rehabbed and lit with LEDs at a cost of $8.5 million during the Bloomberg administration.

Beginning in 2002, the City’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz championed the landmark’s costly revamp as part of their plan to revitalize Coney Island. Will the ruins of the New York State Pavilion, an iconic structure from the 1964 New York World’s Fair in Queens’ Flushing Meadows Park, which the Parks Department says would cost $14 million to demolish and $52 million to restore, find a plan and a champion to underwrite the cost of saving it?

“World’s Fair buildings are not designed to be permanent. They’re meant to be taken down again,” says a voice at the beginning of the trailer for Matthew Silva’s documentary Modern Ruin about the Pavilion. “Somehow there’s always something nobody wants to tear down, and in this case the New York State Pavilion was one.”

The voice is that of Frank Sanchis, director of the World Monuments Fund, which included architect Philip Johnson’s pavilion on their 2008 Watch List. The Tent of Tomorrow is in imminent danger of collapse due to the deterioration of the exposed steel structure and the decay of the wood piles that serve as the building’s foundation, according to WMF, which successfully nominated the Pavilion for inclusion in the State Register of Historic Places in 2009.

NY State Pavilion

The interior of the New York State Pavilion, designed by Philip Johnson, at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. Photo: © Ezra Stoller/Esto/Yossi Milo Gallery

Now as the building approaches its 50th anniversary, it’s in the spotlight again after years of neglect. People for the Pavilion, a grassroots group dedicated to the preservation and reuse of the structure, hosted a kickoff event last month which drew over 200 people. Silva, who is one of the organization’s co-founders, launched a Kickstarter for his documentary about the pavilion, and raised more than $11,000 towards his goal of $30,000 in the first week. The Parks Department held two “listening sessions,” where people were invited to share their vision for the future of the Pavilion after listening to a presentation on recent structural studies that were completed on the Tent of Tomorrow and Towers.

“The reasons for its neglect are open to interpretation and kind of complicated,” said Silva, in an interview with ATZ. “But one could argue that it simply came down to money, poor post-fair planning, and the fact that the City almost went into default in the ’70s. When the city was in such bad financial shape, how could anyone justify pumping money into an old building from the World’s Fair? But here we are 50 years later and maybe now we can make the case for its rehabilitation and reuse.”

UPDATE February 4, 2014:

The Parks Department has posted links to their PowerPoint presentation, which was shown at the listening sessions, and a survey “in order to understand your vision for the future of the New York State Pavilion.” The survey will be posted on the webpage of Flushing Meadows Corona Park through March 15.

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January 18, 2012: Video of the Day: Climbing Coney Island’s Parachute Jump

December 14, 2011: Another Go Round for RFP to Run Carousels in Flushing Meadows & Forest Parks

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Restaurants with amusement rides in the U.S. tend to be of the Chuck E. Cheese variety, but deep in a forest in Treviso, Italy, the Osteria Ai Pioppi offers a magical playground of handmade, human-powered amusement rides. The documentary “Ai Pioppi” released last week on Vimeo, where it was a staff pick, features a tantalizing peek at the park and an interview with Ai Pioppi’s creator.

AI PIOPPI

Homemade Slide at Ai Pioppi, Treviso, Italy. Photo via aipioppi.com

“The first big ride I made was that iron slide and that was forty years ago,” says Bruno, who built the rides in his workshop after learning how to weld. “At that time it was big news. There were not many strange rides like that.”

Ai Pioppi

Homemade Roller Coaster at Ai Pioppi, Treviso, Italy. Photo via aipioppi.com

Ai Pioppi’s swings, gyroscopes and roller coasters call to mind the hand-cranked carousels of the earliest days of amusement ride history and the Swingin’ Gym carnival ride of the 1960s. The source of Bruno’s inspiration? “A branch falls, a leaf floats down, a stone rolls. And I say to myself. Maybe I can use this movement. That’s how my ideas are born.”

Beautifully photographed by Coleman Guyon and written by Luiz Romero, the documentary was produced by a team from Treviso-based Fabrica, a communications research center, studio and school.

Ai Pioppi

Homemade Gyro Gym at Ai Pioppi, Treviso, Italy. Photo via aipioppi.com

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Zipper Doc

Cinematographer Mark Schwartzbard filming at Chance Factory in Wichita, Kansas in 2011. Photo via Zipper Facebbok

It’s beyond cool that Amy Nicholson’s documentary “Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride” is traveling this weekend to a film festival in Wichita, Kansas, the home of the Zipper. Part of the film was shot at Chance Rides factory in Wichita, where the classic ride was invented in 1968 and the company’s elderly founder Harold Chance and his son Dick Chance were interviewed. Coney Island’s Zipper was number 34 of the 224 that were built.

The film will be screened at the Tallgrass Film Festival at 1:30pm on Friday, October 18, and at 2:30 pm on Saturday, October 19.

From ATZ’s review of the film when it premiered last year: “A small-time ride operator and his beloved carnival contraption become casualties in the battle over the future of Coney Island” is the film’s capsule description. Eddie Miranda, who worked on Coney Island’s rides since he was a boy, owned and operated the Zipper and Spider for a decade. In the doc, Eddie’s Zipper represents all of the mom-and-pops who were displaced by the real estate speculation that was set off by the Bloomberg administration’s plan to rezone Coney Island.”

Zipper has an upcoming screening at Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Wednesday, October 30th, 9:30pm and is also available on itunes.

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September 22, 2013: Video of the Day: Coney Island Carnival (1945)

September 4, 2012: Exclusive: McCullough’s Kiddie Park Closing After 50 Years in Coney Island

July 19, 2011: Video of the Day: Let Us Now Praise Coney Island’s Zipper

April 12, 2010: Evicted by Thor, Coney Island’s Zipper Ride Thrills in Honduras

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This weekend, the 13th Annual Coney Island Film Festival will screen 88 films in 16 different programs beginning with Friday’s opening night film and a kickoff party featuring sideshow, burlesque and an open bar. This year’s selections include films starring Coney Island characters past and present—photographer Matt Weber, sideshow talker Scott Baker, sideshow performer Tyler Fleet AKA Tyler Fyre, Coney Island Dancers “Commander in Chief” Rican Vargas and Ruby’s longtime bartender Sammy Rodriguez. There are also films featuring vampire bikers played by veteran actors from ‘The Warriors,” Coney handball champs, Coney strongmen, and Superstorm Sandy. A special late night screening of “The Warriors” is scheduled for Saturday.

Here are ATZ’s top 10 picks for this year’s Coney Island Film Festival. Yes, all of the films on our must-see list happen to be documentary features or shorts! The last three films are part of the popular Coney Island-themed Program 16 that closes the festival on Sunday night.

More Than the Rainbow – Opening Night- Friday, September 20, 7:30pm

Matt Weber’s striking black and white photos of Coney from the 1980’s –The Atlantis, the ruins of Stauch’s Baths, signage for Philip’s Salt Water Taffy, the Cyclops atop Spook-A-Rama — were our first intro to his work. “I’m very nostalgic, I like things from the the 30s, 40s and 50s,” says the New York City cabbie turned street photographer in this clip that follows him and his young daughter around Coney Island. Couples on the beach, a family in front of Nathan’s and daredevils diving from the pier are among his subjects. Directed by Dan Wechsler with cinematography by Arlene Muller, this engaging character study is set to the music of Thelonius Monk. Documentary feature, 83 minutes.

One Wall: Kings of Coney Island – Program 3 – Saturday, September 21, 3:00pm

From September 25-29, the U.S. Handball Association’s National One-Wall Championships will be held at Coney Island’s Seaside Handball Courts at Surf Avenue and West 5th Street as they have for more than 50 years. If the sport were basketball, volleyball or tennis, chances are you’d know about it already and the names of the players would be on the tip of your tongue. As Coney Island-born handball champ Joe Durso says in Joe Glickman’s film, “You need an iconic figure that can capture the public’s interest. There is no future of handball without such a figure.” The film follows Durso and other athletes as they compete for the championship in 2011. You can watch the trailer on Vimeo. Documentary feature, 86 minutes.

Mad Santa – Program 5- Saturday, September 21, 5:00pm

Mad Santa

The Coney Island Sideshow’s longtime outside talker Scott Baker is a trained actor with many stage and film credits, but we had no idea he is also New York City’s #1 department store Santa. This documentary short by Scott Shire follows “Mad Santa” as he brings seasonal cheer to young and old and tells tales from Christmases past. Baker also appears in two other films at this year’s film festival: The documentary short “The Rehearsal” (Program 15 – Sunday, September 22 – 5:15pm) follows Baker’s rehearsal of his new magic act. “Welcome to Madness” is a horror film set in the world of the theater (Program 8 – Saturday, September 21, 2013 – 8:00pm).

Scattered – Program 5 – Saturday, September 21, 5:00pm

Filmmaker Lindsay Lindenbaum uses home movies from her childhood in the 90s to delve into family memoir and discover the true story of her late father. Based on the riveting trailer, it’s clear he liked to take her to amusement parks. The clips show Six Flags and Wildwood in New Jersey, and Disneyworld as well as local fairs and carnivals in the tri-state area, says Lindenbaum. Earlier this year, she successfully raised more than $13,000 on Kickstarter to complete the film. “I started this film in the fall of 2011, soon after my father passed away. After being estranged from him for most of my life, I was left with many questions that I thought would forever be unanswered. As I started putting the pieces of his life together and delved through over 100 hours of his home movies, I began to see his world and understand his story through his own eyes.” Documentary short, 26:28 minutes

The Commander in Chief – Program 11 – Sunday, September 22 – 1:00pm

Commander in Chief

Photographer and videographer Jim McDonnell’s Coney Island Dancing videos compiling a summer’s worth of dance moves have been something to look forward to every September since 2010. ATZ has enjoyed and posted every one of them. Last year, Jim, who works professionally as a footage guru, got the idea to make a documentary feature about Rican Vargas, the founder and “Commander in Chief” of Coney Island Dancers, and his Boardwalk dance parties. With the idea of showing what is takes to get ready for the season, filming began in the fall, just after Sandy, and ended on the first day of summer at the Mermaid Parade. As it turned out, a few weeks after filming ended, Vargas made claims of racism against some members of the community, went into seclusion, and disbanded Coney Island Dancers, leaving many of his followers baffled by his actions. It will be interesting to see what “Commander in Chief” reveals in retrospect about this charismatic and controversial Coney Island character. Documentary Feature, 77 minutes. World Premiere.

Bending Steel – Program 13 – Sunday, September 22 – 3:00pm

“Bending Steel” opened at the Tribeca Film Festival to stellar reviews and is currently on the film festival circuit with upcoming screenings in Calgary, Maine, Kansas and Florida. Dave Carroll’s documentary touched viewers because the introverted Chris Schoeck doesn’t look the part of an old time strongman nor does he have the panache of a sideshow performer. His quest to become both is inspirational. The film follows Schoeck as he attempts to become a professional strongman, from training in his small basement storage unit and getting pointers from a fraternity of strongmen to his first performance onstage in Coney Island.”The sight of this very strong man tackling a moment of complete vulnerability gives ‘Bending Steel,’ however briefly, the hold-your-breath drama of a fine sports film,” said a review in Hollywood Reporter. Before and immediately after the screening, there will be live strongman demonstrations from three of the films stars–Chris Schoeck, Chris Rider and Adam Realman. Documentary feature, 93 minutes.

The Down Home Daredevils – Program 15 – Sunday, September 22, 5:15pm

Lucky Devil Thrillshow Stereovision Photo

The Lucky Daredevil Thrillshow‘s Tyler Fleet aka Tyler Fyre was the outside talker, fire-eater and sword swallower at Coney Island Circus Sideshow from 1998 till 2004. For the past several years he and his wife “Thrill Kill Jill,” snake charmer and sword swallower, have been touring the country in their Airstream. The arrival of two boys – Hank and Duke – has made for some adorable family photos, not to mention the challenge of juggling their sideshow career with parenthood. The documentary by Corcoran College of Art new media photojournalism students Ben Dorger, Jenny Harnish and Emma Scott follows the family from their home in West Virginia to the Hell City Tattoo Convention in Columbus, Ohio. Documentary Short, 12:07, World Premiere.
(Update October 6, 2013… You can watch the short online here.)

Sammy’s 80th Birthday Party at Ruby’s 2007 – Program 16 – Sunday, September 22, 6:00pm

Sammy Lou Dembrow

Sammy Rodriguez came from Puerto Rico and worked as a porter, fry cook and bartender in Coney Island for six decades. The story goes that he had a job at the spot “under the boardwalk” before Ruby Jacobs bought the place and kept him on. As one of my friends says, “He helped create Ruby’s as we know it.” Sam’s birthday is October 1st. When Lou Dembrow shot “Sammy’s 80th Birthday Party at Ruby’s 2007,” old friends came out to meet and greet the beloved bartender, who had already been retired for five years. Dembrow won Best Documentary Short at the 2012 Coney Island Film Festival for her film about the Wonder Wheel. Documentary short, 4:30 minutes, World premiere.

The Storm – Program 16 – Sunday, September 22, 6:00pm

The Storm Charles Denson

Last October, Coney Island historian Charles Denson took dramatic photos and video of the devastation at Sea Gate on the western end of Coney Island the morning after Hurricane Sandy. He rode out the hurricane in Sea Gate where his apartment flooded up to the windows and his car floated away, ultimately destroyed by the storm surge. The film covers preparation for the storm, the surge at Coney Island and Sea Gate, and the storm’s aftermath. In 2009, Denson’s film “The Prince of Mermaid Avenue” was awarded Best Documentary Feature at the 9th Annual Coney Island Film Festival. You can view some of his films and trailers on his Coneyologist channel on YouTube. Documentary short, 20 minutes. World premiere.

Last Ride…First Ride – Program 16 – Sunday, September 22, 6:00pm

Last Ride First Ride Daniel Turkewitz

When Daniel Turkewitz shot footage at the Eldorado Bumper Cars and Arcade “Last Ride of 2012″ party, it wasn’t clear if the famed attraction would reopen for the 2013 season. The lease renewal was up in the air. Posters advertised “Bump Your Ass Off…The End of an Era” and everyone came out to party one last time. There were sideshow stars and go go dancers on the Skeeball lanes and a raffle of Eldorado merchandise. A few days later, the lease came through but the Eldorado was wrecked by Sandy. The documentary chronicles the last ride of 2012 and Gordon Lee’s struggle to reopen in the spring. After the film, everyone will troop next door to the Eldorado for the Coney Island Film Festival Awards Ceremony followed by a spin on the bumper cars. Documentary short, 13:10 minutes. Brooklyn premiere.

The 13th Annual Coney Island Film Festival, September 20 – 22, 2013, at Coney Island USA, 1208 Surf Avenue, Coney Island

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Soap Box Derby

Annual Coney Island Generation Gap Soap Box Derby. Photo courtesy of Big Rod at Nubian Knights Network via CIGG

On Saturday in Coney Island, racing around Kaiser Park in home-made cars, it’s the annual Coney Island Generation Gap Soap Box Derby! Twenty teams of kids including drivers and pushers will compete for prizes in three categories: Speed, Design and Camaraderie. The event starts at 1pm in Kaiser Park at Neptune Avenue and West 29th Street. Trophies and prizes will be awarded at 5pm.

Among the names emblazoned on the cars are team sponsors Alliance for Coney Island, New York Aquarium, Councilman Domenic Recchia Jr., Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, State Senator Diane Savino, State Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, City Council candidate Mark Treyger, Friends of Kaiser Park, Ringling Bros Circus, and Naomi AME Zion Church Sunday School.

Race Day Sponsor Rules:

1. Please stay with your youth at all times
2. Encourage your team remember camaraderie
3. Use your team pusher they are older and can help you
4. Cheer, Cheer, & Cheer some more

“CIGG is committed to keeping our youth on a straight path,” says the organization’s founder and executive director Pam Harris. “This is why our Soap Box Derby race is so important to us.” Contributions and volunteers are welcome for Coney Island Generation Gap‘s Soap Box Derby as well as their teen media arts program.

Earlier this year, the group produced “Keeping Heads Above Water,” a documentary based on how Superstorm Sandy affected them and brought everyone in Coney Island together.

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Zipper: Coney Island's Last Wild Ride

Extended through August 29: The Documentary “Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride” at IFC Center in the West Village. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

In the waning days of summer, there are two things we suggest you put on your to-do list if you’re in the City. “Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride,” Amy Nicholson’s documentary about the rezoning of Coney Island and the City’s standoff with Thor Equities’ Joe Sitt, opened earlier this month at the IFC Center to great reviews. If you haven’t seen it yet, the film has been held over for matinee screenings through August 29. Or see it in LA, beginning August 30. We had a second look at the Coney Island doc after having reviewed the film when it opened at DOCFEST last year. As we wrote last November…

Eddie and his Zipper crew–Don, Joe, Larry and Jerry–are a likeable bunch of guys who cut up jackpots about how far back they go in Coney and with each other. Watching them disassemble the Zipper is heartbreaking, all the more so because in the film, this scene happens as the City Council votes “Aye” on the rezoning that will shrink the amusement zone and allow retail and high rises on the south side Surf Avenue. It’s poetic license because the vote was held in July 2009, two years after the Zipper had left Coney Island. But it is exactly right, because the land remained vacant all that time.

The Zipper site is presently part of Wonder Wheel Way and Scream Zone, which along with Luna Park was built after the City ended the stand-off with Joe Sitt shown in the film and bought 6.9 acres of his land for $95.6 million in November 2009. “It’s a vision offering major new opportunities for retailing and thousands of new housing units,” says Mayor Bloomberg at the City Hall press conference announcing the land deal and the City’s own redevelopment plan for Coney Island.

In the doc, Eddie’s Zipper represents all of the mom-and-pops who were displaced by the real estate speculation that was set off by the Bloomberg administration’s rezoning of Coney Island and the rebuilding that followed the City’s purchase of Thor’s land. The names of the businesses, including Batting Cage and Go Kart City, Shoot Out the Star, Shoot the Freak and Steve’s Grill House, are memorialized on the screen in the final credits.

During the Q & A after a recent screening, a couple said they knew the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel were protected because they’re landmarked, but they wanted to know if any other mom-and-pops had survived. They hadn’t been to Coney Island in four or five years!

Grandma's Predictions

Grandma’s Predictions, newly restored 90-year-old fortunetelling machine under the Wonder Wheel in Coney Island. May 12, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Go before the end of the summer and help keep the surviving old timers alive and thriving. The good ol’ Coney Island to-do list includes getting your fortune told for 50 cents by Grandma’s Predictions, a 90-year-old arcade machine beneath the 93-year-old Wonder Wheel; clams on the half shell at Paul’s Daughter, the 50-year-old Boardwalk restaurant and clam bar formerly known as Gregory and Paul’s; marshmallow treats and candy apples at the nearly 75-year-old Williams Candy, Coney’s last old school candy store; and a ride on Eldorado Auto Skooters, a 40-year-old disco palace of bumper cars whose motto is “Bump Your Ass Off.”

ATZ also recommends the Coney Island History Project’s exhibit of murals from the demolished Playland arcade; the 25-cents-a-dance “Miss Coney Island” doll and the row of games next door; the restored 1940s Mangels Shooting Gallery at Coney Island USA; Spook-A-Rama, Deno’s classic 1950s Pretzel dark ride renovated post-Sandy; and Ruby’s, Coney Island’s oldest bar, where part of the ceiling is made from 1920s Boardwalk wood, making it one of the only places where you can still walk “Under the Boardwalk.”

Paul's Daughter Coney Island

Clams on the Half-shell at Paul’s Daughter, Coney Island Boardwalk. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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May 7, 2013: Video of the Day: Restoration of Grandma’s Predictions

July 17, 2012: 50 Years on Coney Island Boardwalk for Paul & His Daughter

April 27, 2012: The Dancing Doll “Miss Coney Island” Speaks

March 14, 2010: Eldorado Auto Skooter: Coney Island’s Disco Palace of Bumper Cars

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