By KATIE MILANI
The “lucky 13th” annual Coney Island Film Festival got under way last weekend in a museum that was opening its doors to the public for the first time since Hurricane Sandy.
Dick D. Zigun, founder and artistic director of the collective that produces Coney Island events like the Mermaid Parade, told a Friday night audience of about 30 people that the Coney Island Museum’s reopening was part of the slow and tedious recovery from the devastating hurricane, a process, he said, that is still being tackled.
Zigun introduced “More Than The Rainbow,” Dan Wechsler’s documentary chronicling the life and times of a New York City street photographer.
Wechsler, a bookstore owner on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, introduced his subject, Matt Weber, and spoke a few quick words about the hard work that went into making his first film.
“You’ll see certain historical moments throughout this that will show you just how long it takes to make a documentary film,” Wechsler said just before the opening credits started to appear. “This is a labor of love.”
Throughout the hour and 23-minute film, stunning photographs of an older New York City light up the screen. The images, paired with jazz from Thelonious Monk, create a feeling of nostalgia. Going back to the gritty 1980s New York, More Than The Rainbow tells Weber’s story as a street photographer and former New York City taxi driver, explaining the passion that goes into his art.
Shot from behind the wheel of his Dodge Aspen, Weber’s older photographs are mostly in black and white film. Inspired by New York’s diverse neighborhoods and the people who inhabit them, Weber realized the only way to capture the moments he witnessed in everyday life, was with a camera.
Photographs range from street fights in Harlem to scantily clad sunbathers in Coney Island. He focuses on the people of New York, whether they’re homeless sleeping on a bench, or lovers embracing in front of the Dakota, Weber allows for the actions of other people to speak for him.
A native New Yorker, Weber’s photographs capture a real New York. Pictures that illustrate different lifestyles and different time periods paint a broad picture of the city.
The work can evoke an emotional response. The raw, impromptu photographs Weber shoots can make even mundane scenes compelling. Shots of people riding the subway; sleeping; kissing, or just staring into space are Weber’s most popular subjects.
When asked what his most prized picture was, the photographer said it was not the memorable photo he took during the attack on The World Trade Center, but a picture he took in a sleazier, older Times Square.
In the picture, a sailor stares hesitantly into a peep show right across the street from where Weber’s cab station lay. The man was scared of an X-rated movie, Weber said.
A kick-off party followed at The Freak Bar and Sideshows by the Seashore featuring burlesque and sideshow performances.
The festival ran through Sunday night, bringing in hundreds of people to see 88 films.