The Great Flip-Off
by Dafna Yachin
Ringling Bros. eliminate their three-ring circus, marking an end in entertainment history –– the death of the original circus act. “The Great Flip Off” follows extreme bareback riding families as they unite in a final rebellion against the extinction of an art form and the loss of their livelihood.
About The Project
About The Great Flip-Off:
When Ringling Bros. announced the end of their three-ring big top to usher in a new era of fewer animals and arena-only performances, it also marked the end of entertainment history for the Rosinback riders –– the original circus act –– and the beginning of the end for a handful of seventh generations circus families. These performers are the real daredevils of the circus, performing amazing, acrobatic stunts on galloping horses with a will of their own…two minds working as one. But without a ring, the show cannot go on.
Now facing extinction, American bareback royalty unite in Orlando, Florida for a never-before-seen, final performance –– one last push-back against the death of a historic, cultural artform so magical, and so worth fighting for in a world that is quickly ridding itself of the collaboration between man and beast. Here, you will meet the best-of-the-best bareback artists past and present, hear tales of great performers, discover their place in entertainment history and the heritage associated with the art. You’ll be mesmerized by demonstrations from some of the talented few that can still perform this original circus feat.
The Great Flip-Off is the only feature-length documentary that follows the extreme bareback riding families in their final feat. Join them in the ring to bring the history, risk and beauty of the horse-and-rider relationship to a worldwide, multi-generational audience one last time and return 10 years later to find out how these families have dealt with the passing of time in a range of unusual happy endings and ultimate heartbreak.
Getting to the Finish Line:
You can be an important part of preserving this unique piece of history by helping us win Seed&Spark’s “Untold Story” competition. Winning would enable us to complete The Great Flip-Off. We have 30 days to amass a minimum of 500 followers and $10,000, which will help us complete 3 days of final shooting to find out where these bareback riding dynasties are today. If we reach our goal, we’ll get the chance to compete for $20,000 in finishing funds and worldwide distribution. Our stretch goal of an additional $30,000, will go toward 50 hours of transcriptions and post-production, which includes editing, licensing of music, creating the final animation, film festival submissions, marketing and distribution.
Unlocking century-old secrets of mysterious cultures and their connection to fantastic loyal steeds are some of the world’s most extreme athletes, entertainers, and statesmen.
Dr. Dan Draper: Adding the historical perspective to this engaging documentary is Dr. Dan Draper. A chemistry professor by day, Dr. Draper’s personal hobby and love for the circus has made him the leading authority in the world on Rosinback Riders.
The Donnerts: The Donnerts from Hungary arrived with their father who was a great circus clown in his own right. The gentle men from Europe showed what it means to be classy and dignified in the heat of battle, never losing their cool and always maintaining an air of dignity and respect.
Mark Karoly: Six generations of German circus performers led to the man the circus world knows today as the “Riding Fool.” Mark Karoly began his career on the trampoline, and bounced his way up to becoming one of the most popular comedian bareback riders in the business.
Timi Loyal: Timi Loyal, arguably the most famous bareback performer and his riding partner Enrique Suarez showed up to show everyone how the best in the business can make the hardest stunts look easy. Timi’s dad was a circus ringmaster and Enrique learned bareback riding from Timi’s father.
Enrique Suarez: Enrique Suarez is one of our most experienced bareback riders, whose family first joined the circus business back in 1853. From Mexico to the United States, Enrique traveled with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey 1955 as part of the Loyal-Repenzky Troupe, after which he and his family performed with every major circus in North America. The Suarez family teamed up with star equestrian Timi Loyal in the late 1980s and formed the Loyal-Suarez Troupe, creating a legacy of bareback riding fame he passed on to his son, Enrique, Jr.
The Turveys: Joining us in the ring are horse whisperer and stunt professional, the charismatic Tommie Turvey Jr. and his sister, a real-life Xena Warrior Princess, Karen Turvey! Also featured are Tommie’s famous Trick Horses – PokerJoe, Joker, Ace and Blade the Mustang – along with Tommie’s stunt dogs and best friends – Bandit and Maverick, the Australian Heelers!
The Zoppes: Delivering the most heat, passion, and controversy was the Zoppe family, a multi-generational clan that has been performing bareback since the turn of the century. But their personal conflicts and dramatic outbursts seem to always overshadow their performances.
Artistic Statement from Filmmaker Dafna Yachin:
I met Equine Extremists siblings Tommie and Karen Turvey while directing a commercial that involved stunt riders. The brother and sister team were probably the most intriguing actors I’ve met on any commercial shoot. Their talent with training animals and strong family ties as second-generation stunt people, along with an extended circus family, gave me access to worlds I could’ve only dreamt of escaping to as a child.
At the time, Karen Turvey was traveling the world with the famous French Canadian horse extravaganza, Cavalia. Tommie Turvey was making a name for himself on the rodeo circuit and in movies such as John Adams (HBO). We wrapped the commercial but stayed in touch to collaborate on creating a television series about historic and cultural extreme equine events around the world.
We began coordinating a pilot in Florida about the oldest form of entertainment—Bareback Riding. The Turveys felt it would be difficult to get so many circus stars in one arena, but as we began booking the shoot in Orlando, Ringling Bros. announced the elimination of their three-rings and the big top—a devastating blow to bareback riding professionals everywhere. Within days of the announcement, bareback families living in the United States, and some in Europe, asked to come join the rogue riders to show solidarity in a once-in-a-lifetime performance.
The Great Flip-Off organically took shape at a lightning speed, with me being the lucky director of this unusual and gorgeous exhibition. We knew what we now had in front of our lens was not a pilot, but a unique documentary that, like the magic of the circus, would delight people of all ages.
Once you meet the families, from the seventh generation Italian Zoppe’s, the Donnerts’ who escaped from communist Hungary, to the Loyals of London who joined forces with the Mexican Suarez family, not only will their skill draw you in, but the interpersonal portrait of their family will capture your heart and submerge you in their fascinating world.
Jumping through flaming hoops and executing somersaults high into the bigtop while bare-back on magnificent steeds does not make them flinch. For these families, fear is not felt at the face of their daring stunts, but rather at the pending unknown: their future without a ring.
For a filmmaker who usually tackles international subjects on cultural preservation and human rights, “The Great Flip Off” has given me warm pause to recall my childhood and the television specials I enjoyed watching with my Dad on Sunday nights.
It would be an honor to get the chance to return 10 years later to complete the documentary, to find out how these families, who make up such a unique part of American History, have dealt with the passing of time and to finally see the range of their unusual endings from happy success to ultimate heartbreak. The Great Flip-Off is important living history, and its story will document the unforgettable art of the American Circus, while delighting old, young and generations to come.