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Freaks on film: Movie fest celebrates Coney Island attitude

Coney’s close-up: Many of the films in the Coney Island Film Festival feature the seaside nabe, including “Coney Island Sunrise,” about a young musician struggling with her newfound fame, screening on Sept. 16 at 6 pm.
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Film fanatics come out to plaaaay!

The 18th annual Coney Island Film Festival, screening on Sept. 14–16, will showcase almost 20 hours of comedies, dramas, animation, short films, and documentaries. Regardless of genre, all the flicks embody the anarchic freedom of the People’s Playground, according to the event’s director.

“The festival really embraces the spirit of Coney Island, making it kinda freaky fun and wild and anything goes,” said Rob Leddy.

The festival has doubled in size since its modest beginnings in 2001, when it launched with a collection of short films inside the Sideshows by the Seashore theater. It later added feature films, and additional screenings at the Coney Island Museum — and an annual screening of the iconic Coney Island film “The Warriors.”

This year, the festival has added a program of science-fiction movies, which fits right in with the local vibe, said Leddy.

“Coney Island’s a bizarre place and so are most sci-fi films,” he said.

The growth of the festival has matched the renaissance of Coney Island itself over the last 18 years, according to the neighborho­ods’s unofficial mayor.

“Over the years the festival coincided with a lot of the rezoning and rebuilding in Coney Island, and Coney Island is starting to be pretty strong like it did in the 1950s,” said Dick Zigun.

The tireless booster of Coney Island will introduce each film during the fest, and appears as himself in three different shorts during the “Coney Island Films” block on Sept. 16. His prominence in the films is only natural, said Zigun.

“I’ve been at it for 40 years and I have been a major player in Coney Island,” he said.

One of his appearances comes in a mockumentary inspired by a rogue anti-Trump protest at the 2017 Mermaid Parade. “The Infamous Mermaid Uprising of 2017” reveals the untold tale behind the haphazard protest, directed by an “anonymous playwright,” which featured enslaved mermaids dragging a Trump impersonator into the Mermaid Parade and blocking the annual extravaganza, until security removed the mermaids and the faux Trump family.

This incident — and the fact that it became a mockumentary — shows the weird sense of humor that locals celebrate, said Zigun.

“If that doesn’t explain the tenacity of Brooklyn artists then I don’t know what else does, to take a partially failed protest and then document it,” he said.

The festival will culminate in true Coney Island fashion, with an award ceremony at the Eldorado Auto Skooter Bumper Cars and Arcade. Festivalgoers will be able to bump into the makers of their favorite new flicks — literally, said Zigun.

“All the filmmakers will show up, the awards plaques will be given out, and then guests get to ride for free. So you can bump your ass off,” he said.

“The 18th Annual Coney Island Film Festival” at Sideshows by the Seashore and the Coney Island Museum [1208 Surf Ave. at W. 12th Street in Coney Island, (718) 372–5159, www.coneyisland.com]. Sept. 14–16. Screenings $8 each ($50 festival pass).

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Updated 12:36 pm, September 10, 2018
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