Film Fest Journal: Rooftop Films

Written by NYPress on . Posted in Arts & Film, Film.


Rooftop Films hits Coney Island, but is a bit disappointing

If you think about it on paper, Rooftop Films, a film festival that makes stops throughout the city over the course of the summer, made a great choice selecting Coney Island as one of its venues.

Who wouldn’t want to spend a warm summer night redolent with the sea, surrounded by Coney Island’s unique appeal, watching a movie on a big screen with some pals or gals?

It seems like a great night.

It’s why I was so psyched to go.

Rooftop at Coney Island - photo courtesy of Rooftop Films

And I wasn’t the only one.

“I thought it’d be an interesting venue,” said one Rooftop-goer, Steven, while sitting on Coney’s sand waiting for the first of the night’s 12 short films.

“We’ve been to a couple others (of the Rooftop fests), and it’s fun.”

Rooftop Films prides itself, like many other local film festivals, as being a bridge between much of the pop culture-sodden public and underground filmmakers.

According to its mission statement, “Rooftop Films is a 501(c)(3) registered non-profit organization whose mission is to engage and inspire diverse communities.”

“We are a collective collaboration between filmmakers and festivals, between audience members and artists, between venues and neighborhoods.”

It provides $1 from every ticket it sells to fund local production, is present at local schools, and rents its equipment out at reduced rates, and that’s good (I know, very good), but at how much of a cost for the viewers? Surely there must be a middle ground.

In my pieces about Bryant Park Film fest and Tropfest, I spoke about the authentic, lie-down-and-chill vibe of both fests (both benefitting from Bryant Park’s comfort). Those two festivals are a joy to be at. And I realize that perhaps they don’t have the same goal financially as Rooftop, but they certainly do a better job environmentally.

But —and I understand that not everywhere is as packed as Coney Island— Rooftop was flooded with solicitors, some gimmicky pre-film AT&T thing where you text a number and it shows up on screen, on-stage fire-breathers, and the unfortunate Coney Island frequenter oblivious to movie-watching crowds.

The fest has a goal, and an admirable one, but doesn’t seem to know how to deliver yet.

But in regard to the films, it does a pretty good job, and it was great to see some local filmmakers at work.

“Odysseus’ Gambit,” a film about a Filipino-American chess-player, who makes all of his money off low-wage street bets, was a really cool and original bite of New York life.

And “The Best Thing I Ever Done,” a film about Di Fara, a corner pizza shop, who don’t settle for anything less than perfection was heartwarming and memorable.

At The Show

The films, overall, were a pleasure, (the fest also shows feature films, it showed Ghostbusters in Coney on July 2) and the fest is respectable, but perhaps (despite its appearance on paper) Coney Island is not the best place to show films.

Fortunately, there will also be films shown in Socrates Sculptures Park in Queens, Metrotech Commons, and The Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn, and these should all be better venues than the beach at Coney.

Even if only for absence of bumping sounds from bumpy rollercoasters.

I could possibly be spoiled from the great Bryant Park Film Fest and Tropfest (and I understand not everyone is partnered up with HBO and Hugh Jackman), but Rooftop should be able to make their setting a bit more movie, setting-oriented, rather than seem kitschy.

I’d definitely give Rooftop another chance —hey, maybe I was just in a weird mood—, but it definitely wouldn’t be at Coney Island.

One of the fest’s best films was “A Man Named Magick”, a 12-minute dive into the life of a New York street-style magician. Magick, the titular character, specializes in common street gimmicks— card tricks, floating rings, levitations, etc. He goes around impressing the unsuspecting, catching a few bucks along the way, but the film also provides a fresh sentiment about the slow decay of magic, and how, no matter how common it actually is, only a few people really appreciate it.

Perhaps Rooftop Films can learn a trick from Magick.

–Nick Gallinelli

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