Behind the Wheel: Film fest doc celebrates Coney carnies

Thrill ride: Thrillseekers scream their lungs out in this still from “The Longest Friday of the Year.”
Jim McDonnell

They are working for the weekend!

A new documentary takes audiences behind the ticket booths of the People’s Playground, turning a lens on the whirling machinery of the amusement park and the people who keep it running. The director of “The Longest Friday of the Year,” debuting at the 15th annual Coney Island Film Festival on Sept. 20, said he wanted to provide a different view of Sodom by the Sea.

“I wanted to give a perspective of what it was like to work on Coney Island,” said Jim McDonnell, a Bensonhurst resident. “From the people that work there, as opposed to the normal perspective, which is usually from the visitors’ point of view.”

The film is composed entirely of footage shot on June 9, 2015, the first day of Coney Island’s summer season. It features interviews with the staff of the playground’s iconic rides, including the owner and operator of the Wonder Wheel, Dennis Vourderis. McDonnell says that the man who has mastered the nearly century-old technology that powers the ferris wheel made a perfect documentary subject.

“I really couldn’t have asked for anyone better,” McDonnell said about Vourderis. “He’s grown up there, it’s his life.”

This year’s Coney Island film fest includes 107 shorts and feature films from a wide range of genres, with robust offerings in animation, horror and documentaries. It is held at Coney Island USA, the building which hosts the famous Sideshow by the Seashore burlesque acts and freak shows, and many of the films fit right in with that aesthetic. McDonnell says the many of the films selected might otherwise never see the light of the projector.

“You get a real different type of mix of film with it being on Coney Island and being what Coney Island is,” said McDonnell. “Coney Island Film Festival really likes to experiment with different types of art, just like Coney Island USA is about exposing the mainstream to the avant-garde and re-examining popular culture.”

“Longest Friday of the Year” at Coney Island USA [1208 Surf Ave. at W. 12th Street in Coney Island, www.coneyislandfilmfestival.com, (718) 372–5159]. Sept. 20 at 6 pm. $8. Coney Island Film Festival at Coney Island USA, Sept. 18–20, various times. $8–$50.

Reach reporter Harry MacCormack at hmaccormack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow him on Twitter @HMacBKPaper.
Dawn to dusk: Jim McDonnell’s documentary “The Longest Friday of the Year” covers Coney Island for a full day.
Jim McDonnell

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