How do you know you’re going to have fun at a film festival? When the sign over the door reads “Freaks Live Inside.”
Two weekends ago my film “The Jules Verne Project” screened at the Coney Island Film Festival and I couldn’t have been more thrilled! This was the perfect event and venue for my castaways to wash ashore and run amok. “Jules Verne” is a film inspired by the heyday of slapstick, circuses and a little invention called motion pictures. A time when people were barnstorming, pole-sitting, and testing human abilities both in mind and body, creativity and intelligence – perhaps like we’ve never seen since…until you go to Coney Island.
In all my years of living in New York City, I had never been out there. For shame! Now I wonder why it took me so long. What a beautiful boardwalk! World famous beach, world famous Nathan’s Hot Dogs, and world famous rides, all tucked beside one another in more colors than you can ever imagine. I have to admit I’m a bit of a ride wimp, the Wonder Wheel alone made my hands sweat just watching it (including the cars dangling and sliding on the rails INSIDE the wheel – why they named it “Wonder”).
There were tons of families out for a final summer smash and I delighted in finding the more offbeat details, like the miniature Coney Island that lights up and moves when you deposit 25 cents into the window.
The film festival is held in the Coney Island Museum and Sideshow Theater, where on a regular basis you can see: Serpentina, Insectavora, and Adam RealMan among others, swallow swords, eat fire, charm snakes and lay on a bed of nails. What makes this festival, run by the good folks at Coney Island USA, so unique is that they showcase their film selections among logic-defying performances, inside one of the best slices of American History. “The Jules Verne Project” screening was no exception. My short film had the honor of opening for the feature length documentary “Bending Steel” about real-life strongman Chris Wonder Schoeck. (That’s me with him here)
Both after my film and the feature, the audience was treated to demonstrations by strongmen Chris Rider (aka “Hairculese”), Adam RealMan, and Chris Wonder Schoek. What a treat! There’s so much more to this than the barbell lifting macho man you see in silent films (such as my own – wink). As we saw in the documentary it’s truly a study in mind over matter. Yes, these men are strong, but more important, they are skilled in method and concentration and what they can achieve is nothing short of miraculous. They were bending nails, wrenches, horseshoes, steel bars, and driving nails into boards with one punch.
(Adam RealMan bending a horseshoe, photo by Wayne Herrschaft)
(Chris Wonder Schoek coiling a steel bar, photo by Wayne Herrschaft)
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Also in the audience was Mike Greenstein (in the photo above to the right of me and Chris), a 93 year old strongman – who just last May pulled a Buick down Surf Ave with his teeth! Here watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waLaqdSkGDY
He is the son of the legendary strongman The Mighty Atom. Great guys! Such interesting people, the kind you want to have around the table at holidays.
But these were not the only feats of strength displayed for the festival. Just last year Coney Island was laid to waste by Hurricane Sandy. This is what the museum looked like then –
All proceeds from this year’s festival went toward the Sandy recovery effort. And my hat is off to all the staff and volunteers who have come forward to help get this American icon back in shape. Walking around the boardwalk and the museum you couldn’t tell that it had been under five feet of sewage water just last year. That is a true testament to the love these folks have for their corner of the world – and it’s quite contagious! I have lots of love and respect for Coney Island and her locals.
I was also really happy to be able to share this day with some of my favorite people. Ted Woods (the “Jules Verne” titles animator), and Lucien Desar (our film’s composer) joined me. As well as Keith Chandler (Morpheus in TITANIA), and my new friend Leonora (Lucien’s wife, who I met for the first time). So much fun! (below – Ted, me, Lucien)
It also marked 6 years to the day that my dear friend Stephanie passed away. She was a bright light who’s motto was always “Never postpone joy”. I kept thinking of that all weekend, that I was so glad to be someplace like this, sharing my film with others – just experiencing a great day with my friends. This is what filmmaking is all about for me – to tell your story, and inspire one another.
And then, right before I left the boardwalk a bright pink door with blue trim caught my eye. I was going to move on, but there was a sign on the door that piqued my curiosity. So, I crossed the street to get a better look, and was quite taken aback by what I read:
See…true friends, and the joy they bring, never really leave us. Godspeed to all those on a journey to find what makes you happy.
CONEY ISLAND FILM FESTIVAL – I recommend for all filmmakers!
And to watch THE JULES VERNE PROJECT online