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Tom Moore’s ‘The Flight Fantastic’ Tells the Story of Legendary Flying Gaonas

Tom Moore's 'The Flight Fantastic' Tells the Story of Legendary Flying Gaonas

This fascinating look at the world of the flying trapeze
centers on one of the greatest acts in circus history, The Flying Gaonas. First
performing on a trampoline, the Gaonas went on to become a star attraction for
the best circuses in the world, including Ringling Bros. and Barnum &
Bailey.

The Flight Fantastic”  opens April 1st a the Cinema Village in New York. 

Having left the center ring, we see The Flying Gaonoas pass
the torch through teaching and coaching to new generations. When Tito decided
to retire from the circus he did not retire from the trapeze and set up
programs at Club Med and Camp CARE for children with cancer.  When the next big circus act, the
Vasquez Family, succeeded theirs, Tito’s comment about them was “I’m just glad
they’re Mexican like us”.

You will love the circus spirit of this documentary.  And the love that went into creating it
is a charisma to the trapeze artists themselves.

Sports Illustrated has said, “Tito Gaona may be the
finest athlete in the world…whenever circus people gather to speak of the
best acrobats of all time he will be mentioned; some will even say that Tito
Gaona was the best ever.”

Director Tom Moore, a long-time
Broadway Director (and trapeze flyer), brings their story to life through
interviews with family members and colorful archival material. The Gaonas light
up the screen with their blazing charisma, a quality that is undiminished in
their “second act”.

Your career on
Broadway and in television is so vast and varied, what inspired you to make
this documentary?

I feel I’ve been very fortunate in my career and life in
that I’ve had an opportunity to do so many things.   A good many successful, and even more a great
experience.   But like many
people in the arts I’m always looking for a new adventure and a new way of
work.  

Mike Nichols was once asked, what do you enjoy doing most
plays or films, and he replied “Whatever I haven’t done last.”   Well, documentary was a form I
had never had a chance to direct, and because of my passion for the trapeze,
and my passion for film, it allowed me to combine my skills to tell a story I
felt had to be told.

Do your past
productions on B’way and in TV share anything in common with “Flight
Fantastic”?

First and foremost, all of my productions whether on B’way
or TV or film hopefully tell an interesting and intriguing story with
compelling characters, with a lot of excitement and drama thrown in for good
measure.   As a director,
there is also probably a certain style and sense of theatrics that hopefully
helps tell the story and progress the plot.

You say you also work
out on the trapeze?  How did that
come about?

What led to trapeze also led to making this
documentary.  In retrospect, it all
seems like a through line from the first time I took hold of the trapeze bar
and “flew,” to making this film called “The Flight Fantastic.”  

 I had been entranced as a child with the circus, but more
particularly the flying trapeze and I no doubt fantasized about being a trapeze
star.     As my life
and career went on of course, that faded into childhood and the past.   But one year, feeling I had been
doing too much of the same thing for way too long, I began looking for a new
adventure.   Well, I
discovered the Flying Trapeze, and a childhood memory was brought to life when
I had a chance to learn to “fly” with Richie Gaona at the Gaona Trapeze
Workshop. 

As Sam Keene, a wonderful writer on the trapeze world said.
“Sometimes a childhood fantasy that you never dared to dream, holds the key to
renewal.”   And that is
exactly what it did for me.  It
gave me a new sense of exhilaration which led to better work and better
life.   As I continued to
practice it as a sport, I also got to know Richie and the whole Gaona
family.   These were some of
the greatest athletes who ever lived, and absolutely one of the “greatest
flying acts in the history of the circus,” and outside the circus world,, most
no longer knew who they were.  
I felt I had the skills to right that wrong, and the result is “The
Flight Fantastic.”

What other
involvements do you have with the Gaona family?

The Gaona famly is quite the amazing group of individuals,
charismatic and compelling, and I have gotten to know them deeply over the
years, and have become almost a surrogate, though very wasp Gaona.   I have a photo where Richie
photoshopped me, wearing a matching trapeze robe, into one of their iconic
press photos, and it looks like Victor, the patriarch is looking at me saying
something  like “Who let the blonde
guy in???”

I’m very fond of all of them, and all of them, by the way,
are very unique and different from each other, but the one I love the most was
the matriarch Teresa (Mama Terre) Gaona.   Had she been alive, she would have been one of the
stars of this film.  I am quite
sure the warmth of this family came directly from her care.   People were drawn to her everywhere,
and being around her made for a “happy” time.   There were four children that became performers on the
trampoline and trapeze, but there are 3 others that had different careers
altogether.   One of the
narrators of this film is Jose, often called “The Walking Gaona.”

Who do you see as
your audience? 

We knew that the film would have a core audience of those
who love the circus and the aerial arts (and it has brought many to the film)
but TFF seems to reach many others because of the warmth of the family, the
closeness of the family, and the family’s ability to work together to build
something  (as Paul Binder, founder
of the Big Apple Circus says) “magnificent.”   It seems to reach old and young alike for many
different reasons.   The
ringmaster at Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus used to say:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, and Children of All Ages…..”

Something happens when an audience sees this film in a
theatre.  (And this was a surprise
to me when I first saw it on a big screen).  It seems to unite them in a shared sense of hope and
joy.   It seems to rejuvenate
and inspire.   At all of our
screenings in many different places, the reactions have been the same and it
has been very exciting. 

Tell us about Camp CARE

Camp CARE (a camp for children coping with cancer) is located
on Lake Lure in North Carolina, and it was actually our first shoot for the
documentary. It was knowing that Richie and Armando Gaona were going there to
coach, teach, and support, that got me off of the theoretical idea and into the
practical of making the movie.  
Within a couple of days, I had gotten our equipment, and a few people
together to help, and off we went.  

I can safely say that I don’t think I have ever been in a
more inspirational, supportive and caring environment.    Many of these kids had just
gotten out of a hospital room to come to camp which is held for one week every
year, and their joy in being there was palpable.  That they never complained, and that they worked through
fear to go up on that trapeze to achieve their goal was impressive at every
turn.   And it wasn’t just the
kids, as I was also very impressed with the counselors, many who arranged their
year of study or work just to be available at Camp CARE  for these children, some of whom had
been coming to the camp for years.  
I have so much film of this camp, as I just couldn’t stop filming, as
around every corner and every group of children, there was something
remarkable.   I could have
stopped right there and made a documentary about this magical place alone.   I look forward to going back there
again some day as I remember it and everyone there with great fondness. 

In the days when the circus was one of the most important
events of the year and when audiences went to see their favorite performers
each and every season, The Flying Gaonas were Big Top royalty. Often called the
“First Family of the Air”, The Flying Gaonas are a 4th generation
Mexican circus family. They began their careers on the trampoline, but quickly
took to the air.

From the beginning, Tito Gaona always knew he wanted to be a
trapeze artist and used to fly with any trapeze act that came to the circus,
starting at the age of 10. And after seeing the Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis
movie “Trapeze”, Tito convinced his father, Victor – a legend in his own right-
and siblings to develop a trapeze act, making their debut at the Clyde
Beatty-Cole Brothers circus. It took only a couple of years for them to become
one of great acts of the circus, and in their time they were the headliners in
circuses around the world. Most notably, they performed for 17 years with
Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey, The Big Apple and the legendary European circuses. For this, The Flying Gaonas won
the circus world’s highest award, The Golden Clown, at the international circus
festival at Monte Carlo – the Oscars of the circus world.

The charismatic and very handsome Tito was the center of the
act and one of the foremost innovators in the world of trapeze. People would
come again and again to see him perform, and often he would have arenas of
40,000 people chanting and clapping: “Tito, Tito, Tito! It is said that Tito
communicated with an audience as if he or she was a very personal friend, and
he could mesmerize 25,000 or 40,000 people at a time.

When the Gaonas were in residence at Madison Square Garden with
the Ringling show, the flying act was covered by all the major media in the city,
each and every year. NBC news called him “arguably the greatest athlete in the
world today.”

It is said that their skill came from their father,Victor
and that their warmth and generosity came from their mother, Teresa. “The
Flight Fantastic” is dedicated to her memory.

“The Flight Fantastic “is Tom Moore’s first documentary
feature, although he has had a long career in theatre, film, and television fiction.
He directed the film of “Night Mother” with Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft,
following his direction of the Broadway production with Kathy Bates, which was
awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and for which he received his second Tony nomination

In the theatre, Mr. Moore is best known as the director of
the original production of “Grease”, which ran for eight years and is one of
the longest running shows in the history of Broadway. Over the years, this
production introduced John Travolta, Richard Gere, Patrick Swayzee, Peter Gallagher,
Treat Williams, Barry Bostwick, Marilu Henner, Adrienne Barbeau, and countless others.

His first directorial Tony nomination was for the direction
of the Big Band Musical “Over Here!”, which brought the Andrews Sisters out of
retirement. Other Broadway productions include the critically-embraced revival
of “Once in a Lifetime” (with John Lithgow, Deborah May, Treat Williams, and
Jayne Meadows) at the Circle-in-the Square, “Division Street”, “The Octette
Bridge Club”, “A Little Hotel On The Side” with Tony Randall and Lynn Redgrave,
and the short-lived, but legendary

“Frankenstein” at the Palace Theatre.

 His most recent Broadway production was “Moon Over Buffalo” with
Carol Burnett.

 On television, he directed Disney’s first original musical
for television, “Geppetto”, starring Drew Carey and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. He
has helmed episodes of “ER” (Emmy nomination), “Mad About You” (Emmy
nomination), “L.A. Law” (Emmy nomination), “Cheers”, “Ally McBeal”, “Gilmore
Girls”,”Thirtysomething”, “Cybil” and many others.

He was a fellow at the American Film Institute, and he holds
a B.A. from Purdue University and an M.F.A. from the Yale University School of
Drama. He was also awarded the degree of Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa, by
Purdue University.

As an avocation, Mr. Moore is actively involved with the
Circus Arts, and spends as much time as possible on the flying trapeze.

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