A story about greed, politics and the land grab of the century, ‘ZIPPER‘ chronicles the battle over an American cultural icon. Small-time ride operator, Eddie Miranda, proudly operates a 38-year-old carnival contraption called the Zipper in the heart of Coney Island’s gritty amusement district. When his rented lot is snatched up by an opportunistic real estate mogul, Eddie and his ride become casualties of a power struggle between the developer and the City of New York over the future of the world-famous destination. Be it an affront to history or simply the path of progress, the spirit of Coney Island is at stake. In an increasingly corporate landscape, where authenticity is often sacrificed in the interest of economic growth, the Zipper may be just the beginning of what is lost.
The eternal showdown between old-fashioned urban tradition and modern commercial development is played out on an unlikely battlefield—in Amy Nicholson’s thoroughly entertaining and engaging new documentary. In 2007, a real estate mogul and the Bloomberg administration begin rezoning the amusement park within an inch of its life. Nicholson paints an intriguing portrait of one of New York City’s last cultural enclaves on the cusp of gentrification.
We talked to ‘Zipper‘ Director Amy Nicholson in anticipation of the film’s screening at The First Time Fest, held in New York City at the famed The Players from March1-4, 2013.
As ‘Zipper’ is your first feature documentary can you tell us a little about your background as a filmmaker? What is it about the documentary genre that appeals to you specifically?
I have actually completed two other films that were under an hour. A ten minute film titled ‘Beauty School‘ about how and where people learn to be dog groomers, and a 58-minute film titled ‘Muskrat Lovely‘ about a pageant at a muskrat skinning competition. My background is in advertising, and long before reality TV came along, I had actually produced several campaigns involving real people and that was always my favorite work. My sister tells me I could talk to a doorknob. I love meeting people outside of my little world.
What was your directorial approach towards this film? Did you draw any specific influence from past documentaries?
Well, we shot on film; we may have made be one of the last documentaries to be shot on film! My last two films were shot on super 16 and I started this one that way. When the story became much bigger than I ever imagined, it was hard to keep going with film, but we were trying to capture a certain feeling, so we continued. Coney Island is an analogue place – that’s a big part of its charm- so the most important thing was to give the audience the experience of being there. I am a big fan of movies from the seventies and our opening montage was very influenced by the opening of ‘Dog Day Afternoon‘.
Apart from the look, the idea was always to film the three very separate factions – the carnies, city officials, and the developer – and have them each tell their side of the story. None of them knew what the others had said, so when you see the film, you get everyone’s perspective at once. I wanted to let the audience come to their own conclusions.
Coney Island’s Zipper ride has been an NYC cultural landmark for decades. What is your emotional connection with the ride? What was something about the Zipper that you learned while making the film?
I grew up in Maryland and every summer carnival and fair had a Zipper. They also had one in Ocean City where I spent my summers. It was the seventies, and the Zipper was hugely popular. It’s an amazing machine, and they don’t make them any more. The Zipper reminds me of my childhood and of being a teenager and the simple fun of a different time. Visiting the factory in Wichita was fantastic. Meeting Harold Chance really felt like meeting ride royalty. I think Harold understood what that type of amusement was all about – how much fun it brought to so many people. The Zipper has a cult following around the world. All of our “on ride” footage came from fans on YouTube. I still can’t figure out how they can hold a camera or a cell phone and film themselves while the ride is going!
Within your knowledge, how has the Zipper been affected by the recent Hurricane Sandy? Did the Hurricane seal its fate?
The Zipper that was in Coney Island lives in Honduras now. When we last checked with our contacts there a few months ago, it was still going strong, still scaring people silly. And that particular Zipper was built in 1969.
Sandy was very hard on the amusement operators in Coney Island on so many levels. Little things you don’t think about like the effect of salt water on tools and motors. It was absolutely devastating to the entire area. Some of those guys won’t be back. It’s like another crushing blow on top of an already difficult situation.
As a “first time” filmmaker, can you give us an idea as to your marketing strategy with ‘Zipper’ going forward? How are you allowing for the film to reach its maximum audience?
We are just at the beginning of getting Zipper out there. We are just starting to screen at festivals and have hopes to get a theatrical run in New York. We will also partner with distributors for the educational and digital markets. I think the time is right for his message. I cant tell you how many people think New York has lost its soul. And its happening everywhere, not just New York. Of course I want the world to see the film, but mostly because I want people to understand the effect that politics have on places like Coney Island. Once that spirit is changed, it’s gone forever.
The thing that makes me happiest is hearing from someone who understands what the film is saying and writes to tell me how moved they were and how happy they are that we captured the spirit of Coney Island. Connecting to just one person on that level makes it all worth it.
Purchase Tickets to ‘ZIPPER’ – HERE
March 1-4, 2013
THE FIRST TIME FEST
@ The Players
16 Gramercy Park
New York, NY