13th annual Coney Island Film Festival

coney island film festivalThis year I was a participant in the 13th annual Coney Island Film Festival, which ran from September 20-22. While I always enjoy film festivals, I had an especially nice time at this small, intimate, warm, friendly, community oriented, independent minded and very cool festival, sponsored by Coney Island USA.  The opening night events included a very enjoyable, live burlesque show.  How many film festivals do that?

My documentary short, “Mad Santa,” was shown on Saturday, September 21 as part of a program of documentary shorts.  After seeing some of the other entries in this program, I realized I was in the company of some very talented filmmakers.  I was gratified to see my work get some (much hoped for) laughs in its first public screening and receive some nice compliments from audience members following the program.

As has always been my experience at film festivals, the documentaries are the best part, and Coney Island was no exception.  Maybe it is just my bias, but, at film festivals, the documentaries seem to have the most consistently high level of quality. 

In fact, the opening night film was Dan Wechsler’s engrossing feature length documentary “More Than the Rainbow.” The subject is cab driver and photographer Matt Weber, who, for the past quarter century, has been a street photographer in New York, documenting New Yorkers of all types and in all kinds of situations.

What is especially unique about Weber is that he still shoots on black and white 35mm film, which he develops and prints himself.  In this day and age of digital photography it is very gratifying to see someone sticking with the older technology which has a look and feel all its own.  In fact Wechsler had the good sense to shoot part of “More Than the Rainbow” on 35mm motion picture film, enabling him to deliver the motion picture equivalent feel of Weber’s still photographs.

Weber himself proves to be an articulate subject on his art.   He discusses, among other things, the ethics, not to mention dangers, of photographing random people in the street.

“More Than the Rainbow” deservedly won the festival’s award for Best Feature Length Documentary. I hope a distributor will snap up this fascinating and highly creative documentary for distribution soon.  By comparison, the film reminded me of the excellent 2010 documentary “Bill Cunningham New York,” also about a street photographer who documents New Yorkers.

As a filmmaker and photographer, “More Than the Rainbow” made me want to take my old dark room equipment, still stored in my mother’s basement, set it up in the bathroom of my Stuyvesant Town apartment and start shooting black and white film again.   It is great when a documentary can be that inspiring.

The winner for Best Short Documentary was Lindsay Lindenbaum’s, haunting, sad and riveting film, “Scattered.”  “Scattered” is a highly personal documentary about Lindenbaum’s late father.  The film uses many years’ worth of slides, silent home movies, photographs and home videos to tell the story of a man who obsessively documented his life, took great pride in being a parent and then proceeded to ignore his daughter.  “I don’t think he knew how to love.  He knew how to be obsessed with something,” is how Lindenbaum’s mother describes her ex-husband.  “Scattered” also includes interviews with Lindenbaum family members and friends, all offering opinions and remembrances of a man who has become an enigma.  As one interviewee puts it, “We all remember what we want to remember.”

“Just Passing By” is filmmaker Susanne Dollnig’s fascinating short documentary.  It  consists of interviews with ordinary people who stop to sit down at an outdoor table with Dollnig, have a cup of coffee and share their life experiences.  The idea behind “Just Passing By” is deceptively simple, yet it makes for truly compelling portraits.

“Ben” is Iva Radivojevic’s documentary about the title subject, Ben, a man diagnosed with schizophrenia.  Ben narrates the film giving a very unique perspective on how he perceives the world and how it perceives him.

The Coney Island Film Festival was a fun time with great people and great films.  This being Coney Island, the awards ceremony took place at one of the bumper car concessions.  Following the awards we all got to ride the bumper cars.


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on September 24, 2013, in Documentary, Feature Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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