Coney Island

Director: Ric Burns
Screenwriters: Richard Snow

Institute History

  • 1991 Sundance Film Festival


Filmmaker Ric Burns has assembled a fascinating array of rare film footage and never-before-seen archival photographs which form the heart and soul of this absorbing portrait of one of America's great amusement parks: Coney Island. The film documents the lively, and at times surprising, history of "Coney" from its discovery by Henry Hudson in the early 1600s, through its glory days as the home of three extraordinary amusement parks at the turn of this century, to its sad and sordid demise following World War II.

The history of this notorious amusement empire—"the hope, joy and fun of tens of millions of people"—is a grand one, but the true beauty of this film lies in the filmmaker's ability to add a human dimension to it. This is accomplished first and foremost through the eerily beautiful film footage and skillfully animated photographs which Burns has unearthed. Just as significant are the words chosen to accompany the pictures. These are personal observations and stories of the time, which are retold here in off-camera readings by people such as Eli Wallach, Frances Sternhagen, and George Plimpton, among others.

Brimming with evocative images and a poetic narration, Coney Island is as much a story of people as it is of a place. Burns, part of the filmmaking team behind the acclaimed PBS series "The Civil War," has succeeded in documenting the story of a great American landmark, and in transforming it into an emotional portrait of a time gone by.

— Karen Arikian

Screening Details


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