A Summer of Skateboarding
Subcultures blossom when hidden in the underground, and it's when these often alternative and sidelined groups enter the norm that we start to see the intricate inner workings and intimate human experiences emerge. With the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo being the first to approve skateboarding as eligible for competition, the sport is thriving and is currently making its presence known more regularly on film than ever before. 2018’s Skate Kitchen and 2019’s mid90s and Minding the Gap have allowed skateboarding to surpass its reputation of suburban juvenile delinquency to reveal its potential for transcendentalism whereby the skater is transported away, literally and metaphorically, from harsh realities.
On May 31st we are screening Jonah Hill’s directorial debut mid90s. This raw and impactful film follows Stevie (Sunny Suljic) as he, and simultaneously the viewer, discovers the beauty of skateboarding not only in its physicality but also in the familial bonds formed with his fellow skaters. The smell of cigarettes, the visceral sound of wheels smacking the concrete and the hypnotic rays of California sunshine engulf us in the world of mid90s. This is something that Hill meticulously recreated in the titular period piece, enhanced through the use of 16mm film. Not only does the 4:3 aspect ratio further invite the audience into this intimate coming-of-age portrait but also the specificity of its sentimental soundtrack allows viewers to engage in the cultural moment the film is set in. Hill explores the relief of skateboarding as a form of therapy for the physical abuses suffered at home, the skaters embrace Stevie and almost unwittingly teach him that around the family you choose performativity is not needed to fit in. The characters inject the film with such heart that you instantly connect to this group of misfits and their exploration of youth.
Minding the Gap hits our screen on July 3rd and acts as a fascinating accompaniment to the world of mid90s. First time documentarian Bing Liu expertly immerses the audience into the real lives of Chicago skateboarders, who also happen to be his closest friends. Liu affectionately tells the stories of his friends, revealing even the darker side of those he admired, whilst also imbuing the documentary with his personal struggles. Minding the Gap makes Chicago a filmic cityscape through which the skaters can exert their independence and make their mark on the American metropolis, this visceral command of space is in direct opposition to the lack of control in their turbulent home lives. Liu thrusts the audience into the actuality of child abuse, domestic violence and self-harm, as well as the intersectionality of all of these with race in the United States, and much like the skaters themselves, the audience is granted the sublime escapism of the sport. The harrowing link of physical abuse and self-harm with the constant injuries of skateboarding is touched upon in mid90s but Liu is able to compassionately examine the truth behind this. This festival favourite is not one to be missed on the big screen with its stunning visuals and honest portrayal of the skating community.
mid90s screens on Friday 31st May, book now.
Minding the Gap screens on Wednesday 3rd July, book now.
Words by Ella Penfold.