Winners of CIFF awards push -- actually, shred -- the envelope

Brooklyn Currents | 10/01/2013 | 0 comments

Brooklyn Currents Associate Editor

From New York and beyond, filmmakers flocked to Coney Island last month to showcase their films at the 13th annual Coney Island Film Festival. They and movie fans were treated to three days of parties, rides and interesting films in the strange but exciting "People's Playground."

The Closing Night Awards Ceremony on Sunday, Sept. 22 at Eldorado Bumper cars was Judgment Day as the filmmakers eagerly awaited the awards for Best Film in each category.

Best Feature length film went to Eric Branco's "Stay Cold, Stay Hungry," a film about a young man with a comfortable life  but who wants to experience homelessness -- so he befriends a recovering alcoholic.

Director Claire Ensslin in her gorilla suit with
"Pedestrian" lead actor Thomas Wesson
The prize for Best Documentary Feature went to "More Than the Rainbow" by Dan Wechsler -- a fascinating look into the life of New York City street photographer and former cab driver Matt Weber, as he and his fellow photographers discuss their careers.

 "Sea Pig" by Andrew Gilchrist and Jesse Allen earned Best Short Film  -- it's about a man with intrusive thoughts about romantic escapades with a mermaid.

Best Documentary Short went to Lindsey Lindenbaum for "Scattered."  Lindenbaum discovers her father's true character through his home movies.

Taking home the award for best Horror Short was Nicolas Wendl for "From the Woods," about a woman on the run from an abusive husband, only to find worse troubles as a strange creature takes control of her child's will.

Harriet Feigenbaum took in hand the prize for Best Experimental Film for "Coney Island Sinking" -- about, of course, Superstorm Sandy.

Best Music Video went to Jeff Bernier and Luz Mob for Luz Mob's song "Huerfano," depicting a man's strange journey as he searches for the perfect sound.




Best Animation went to "The Undertaker and the Lifeguard" by Mathew Booras; the two men talk about the similarities (!) they encounter in their occupations.

For  Best Made-in-Coney-Island Film, the award went to "Shoeshine Chicken," about a pair of derelict children shining shoes on the Coney Island Boardwalk in the summer of 1963.

Although Charles Denson's documentary short, "The Storm," didn't garner any awards, it's well worth seeing.  The Coney Island historian spent the night in the streets of Coney Island documenting the worst effects of Sandy, particularly the devastation in Sea Gate. By the end of the film we see a pale and sleep-deprived Denson still narrating from his flood-damaged home with many of his possessions destroyed. No  doubt that this footage will be part of Denson's Coney Island History Project Exhibition Center on 12th Street.

Another interesting film was from an up-and-coming 23-year-old director from Bushwick. The film "Pedestrian"  was a surprising entry from the Virginia transplant Claire Ensslin. A child predator's guilty conscious seals his fate in this sophisticated exploration into the mind of a man who has overwhelming urges to molest little girls.

"I was really interested in telling a story from the predator's perspective, from his point of view, and to explore what he's feeling and what he's going through, because I feel that these are stories that are sensationalized, Ensslin said in an interview with Brooklyn Currents. "They're always from the victim's point of view and the victim's families and of course, these stories are very important. But that's already out there -- what's missing is what's going on in his brain."

Ensslin first wandered around the festival in a gorilla suit handing out chocolate kisses, then in a Boy Scout uniform looking more like the victim of her film than the film's director. She says she wore the gorilla suit because she made a bet with her friends that if the Horror Shorts program sold out she'd wear the costume.

Ensslin is no stranger to controversial topics. Her last film was from the point of view of a teenage girl who has an abortion.

"The things that attract me are the things that make me uncomfortable or upset or that I don't understand," she said. "That's what I want to make art about. And things that are personal, too. I think it's important that I make movies that are very emotional, about individuals, not countries or groups of people, but more private, about an individual and what they're going through and their emotional response to the situation. That's what I'm interested in."

Ensslin moved to New York City nearly six years ago from Virginia and more recently to Bushwick, where she says she fits right in with other struggling artists her age.

Next topic on her agenda, in her first full length feature film, is incest.

Laugh or gasp,  festival organizers insist that these types of outside-the-box films are what keeps bringing people back to the Coney Island Film Festival year after year.

This year included a new award, the Festival Appreciation Award, which went to the cast of Vamp Bikers by Eric Spade Rivas for their dedication to the Coney Island Arts Community and Film Festival.

See ya next year!  
 Photos of the event: CIFF
Hear the full interview with Claire Ensslin:

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