Village resident Amy Nicholson has directed her first film, “Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride,” which chronicles the dramatic changes over the Bloomberg years of the famed amusement park sitting at the bottom of Brooklyn. The film which has been playing around the circuit over the last few years will be experiencing its premiere theatrical release at nearby IFC Waverly Theater (tho’ they seem to have removed the word ‘Waverly’ from the name).
The director’s description of the film:
My film chronicles the contentious rezoning of the world famous Coney Island amusement district, told through the lens of Eddie Miranda, his crew of operators and his beloved Zipper. We’re really excited that Zipper is having its theatrical premiere here in NY at the IFC Center beginning August 9th.
While Zipper has many entertaining moments – tons of great ride and Coney footage, colorful and poignant commentary from the Zipper Crew, etc. – the film is first and foremost an examination of the Bloomberg Administration’s economic development policies, and their impact on small businesses, communities and their sense of place. So it’s a very political film as well. Perfect timing. And we shot on real film!
All of the major players are present: from city government (Deputy mayor, President of EDC, Commissioner of Dept. of City Planning), the billionaire private developer, and the local city councilman. They all gave us great interviews and collectively they tell the story of how the amusement district was ultimately shrunk from sixty acres down to nine.
I asked Nicholson some questions via e-mail about the film, the city, and herself.
The Q&A follows:
How did the opportunity to screen the film at IFC Waverly come about?
We screened at IFC as part of the DOC NYC film festival last November, and again in February as part of the Stranger than Fiction series that Thom Powers and his wife Raphaela program. We got great crowds each time, so I think that helped. Plus, I asked Thom to whisper in IFC V.P. John Vanco’s ear for me for which I will be forever grateful!
It seems from some of your Twitter comments to me that you’ve followed privatization issues. How did that issue get your attention? What do you see as the impacts of privatization on our public spaces?
I have to admit it wasn’t top of mind before I started to make the film, but I had noticed that New York was changing pretty rapidly. A sort of unease had set it that I didn’t really understand. Then – as part of my research – I read Sharon Zukin’s book, Naked City – The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, and it was such an education. Of course once you start to notice how much privatization affects where you live, you get tuned into it as an issue. It’s very complicated, and I hate to over simplify, but if spaces that are supposed to be public are turned over to private companies, they are always going to do what is good for profit and not necessarily what’s good for people.
Why Coney Island? How did you come to film about the Zipper?
I grew up in Maryland going to carnivals and living at the beach in the summers as a teenager and I love carnival and beach culture. Coney Island is the perfect combination of both. It’s also some of the best people watching in the city. My best friend and started going down there when we first moved here on Friday nights and we’d wander around and eat corn on the cob and just soak in the atmosphere.
The Zipper was my favorite ride as a kid. I think I’m sensitive to the fact that analogue forms of entertainment are pretty much fading away in my lifetime, so I decided to make an homage to the Zipper and explain why it had to leave Coney Island.
I was just in Coney Island last weekend and it seems like so much of the charm has been removed. Even ‘old time’ Brooklyn establishments – Grimaldi’s, Tom’s – are encased in these boring facades. What do you think that is about? What is that aesthetic about? Coney Island might have been a bit run down but some of that ‘grittiness’ was part of its appeal.
Yes, so true. I have no idea why everything has to look like it got pooped out of a computer.
And the real tragedy is that it’s not just grit; there was so much great signage down there that was created by a bunch of now-famous artists as part of a Creative Time project led by Steve Powers back in 2002 and 2003. A lot of that is now gone – tossed into a dumpster. Back in the 70’s, the owners of the Eldorado made that brilliant “Bump your ass off” signage. They understood what Coney Island was all about. I think now it’s just a case of the new businesses not getting it and the older businesses being expected to conform to a “cleaner” aesthetic.
Is Zipper gone now?
Yes, the Zipper lives on in Honduras. Poetically, the place where it once stood is now literally the dividing line between the city parkland and developer Joe Sitt’s property.
You live in the Village. Do you see ties between Coney Island and Greenwich Village and/or Washington Square Park?
I have seen our neighborhood change so much. And I know there has been talk of privatizing Washington Square Park. I really hope that doesn’t happen. I look at Bryant Park and I see how “programmed” it is at all times. It’s like an event space more than a park now. With the looming expansion of NYU, there will be so little public space left in the Village and I really hope Washington Square remains “of the people.” That’s where I see a real parallel to Coney Island. Even though Coney’s amusement area was privately owned, it felt like it belonged to everyone, and that all were welcome.
What did you ‘do’ before working on this film?
Still do! I work in advertising. No one understands better than me the idea of branding, which I why I think I take such umbrage at the idea of branding places.
What’s next for you?
A new project I am calling Sleep, Save Money, and Pay Attention to My Husband.
Catch “Zipper” at IFC Waverly from Friday August 9th through Tuesday, August 13th. The filmmakers will be present at many screenings Friday and over the weekend. The full schedule is here.
Location: 323 Sixth Avenue at West Third Street, Manhattan
Photo #1 & #2: Courtesy Amy Nicholson
Photo #3: Ting-Li Wang/The New York Times