I’ve been fascinated by the idea of twin films for a long time. You know, the phenomenon where two (or more) films with similar premises are released within the same year. It’s often easily explained by industry competition, but the phenomenon still feels eerie. It seems to reflect specific ideas circulating in the collective consciousness, a strange synchronicity that just might illuminate something about the cultural landscape of a given time period. In any case, 2018 was a year for movies about skater culture, giving rise to Crystal Moselle’s debut feature film Skate Kitchen, based on the real-life all-girl skate collective of the same name.
Legend has it that Moselle met members of Skate Kitchen while riding the subway in New York, and cast them in her 2016 short film That One Day before bringing them on board for this full-length feature. Skate Kitchen stars skater girl and founding member of the collective Rachelle Vinberg as Camille, an unhappy 18-year-old living with her mom in Long Island. The film has an unexpectedly gory beginning, opening with Camille getting “credit-carded” after attempting to kickflip down a set of stairs at the skate park. For the uninitiated (myself included), this means she landed crotch-first on the edge of her skateboard, resulting in a torrential outpouring of blood and a trip to the emergency room. A group of boys observing the incident snicker to each other, and comment that they think she got her period. It’s a not-so-subtle signal to the viewer that we’re in a dude-dominated space.
Camille’s injury prompts some concern over her future reproductive abilities from her mother (OITNB‘s Elizabeth Rodriguez), who tries to ban Camille from skating. Camille agrees to stop, but soon sees a post on Instagram from the members of Skate Kitchen, and starts sneaking into the city to skate with them under the pretense of going to the library. The real strength of this film is in these characters, relatable young women who are fictionalized versions of the real-life skaters who play them. There’s the unapologetic Indigo (Ajani Russell), the videographer Ruby (Kabrina Adams), the rambunctious, lady-loving Kurt (Nina Moran), and the open and outspoken Janay (Ardelia Lovelace). They have the easy chemistry of a group of close-knit friends, each with disparate but compatible personalities that shine through in the familiar back-and-forth of the dialogue. They welcome Camille into their group immediately, building her self-confidence and offering her a girl-centric space to explore her love of skating and acting as a sounding-board for topics ranging from parental conflict to the merits tampons. When she runs away from home after a skating-related confrontation with her mom, Janay is quick to let Camille crash with her.
While much of the film is a beautiful portrayal of women supporting each other, growing together, and learning from one another within the male-dominated skate culture, a central conflict arises concerning Camille’s crush on Janay’s ex, Devon (Jaden Smith). While not necessarily unrealistic in a coming-of-age story in which teenagers are learning to navigate the complicated world of romance, it was heartbreaking to watch these beautiful, uplifting friendships become tarnished over competition for a guy.
Skate Kitchen looks like what summer feels like, with cinematographer Shabier Kirchner creating a sense of warmth and vastness, giving the skaters space to weave expertly in and out of the frame. The visual metaphor is clear – these young women are staking a claim on their space within the skating world. The whole film is imbued with the sense of freedom and rebellion that goes hand-in-hand with skate culture, and may hint at the type of affective stream the various skater movies of 2018 were trying to tap into.
If you missed your chance to see Skate Kitchen last August, you’re in luck, because it’s screening for free on Tuesday, February 19th at Emerson as part of their Bright Lights film series and co-presented with the Independent Film Festival of Boston and the Boston Latino International Film Festival. And if all of that isn’t enough to tempt you, just imagine the utter bliss elicited by sitting through an hour and forty-seven minutes of summer in the middle of a Boston February.
dir. Crystal Moselle
Screens Tuesday, 2/19, @ Emerson College, as part of the ongoing Bright Lights film series
Discussion with director Crystal Moselle to follow!