It’s nothing groundbreaking to point out that we’re a more divided world now than ever. While subcultures have traditionally been a safe space for the disenfranchised, scandals like Gamer Gate have shown the underlying hatred and misogyny that can exist even in places where like-minded weirdos are supposed to belong together.
The gloriously fun Skate Kitchen, starring members of the real all-girl’s skating collective addresses these feelings of alienation and needing a place to belong. Centering on shy, conservative Camille, the film tells the story of an outsider meeting her tribe. When she encounters the members of the Skate Kitchen collective, Camille is instantly welcomed into their sisterhood and embarks on a raucous journey through New York’s skater scene. This isn’t without its problems, though. Camille’s mother doesn’t approve of her extra-curricular activities and a cute boy from an all-male skate collective cause her a good deal of coming-of-age angst.
The film itself, directed by Crystal Moselle, is a vibrantly fun exploration of a subculture. The plot and execution reminded me delightfully of another film about a lost and lonely New Yorker looking for his place in the world, Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan. Both movies have the same youthful, breathless excitement, dreamy romanticism, and central story of a complex teen subculture hiding in plain sight under the noses of jaded adults.
While the movie was worth the price of admission alone, what really sticks with me about the Oak Cliff Film Festival’s screening of Skate Kitchen was the outpouring of love from Dallas’s skater community. In front of the historic theatre, both male and female skaters practiced tricks, executing jumps over each other’s stacked up boards. Unable to resist the show, I was able to talk with a new of the skaters present.
First, I met Luna (instagram @spiritwaveluna), a skater who was enthusiastic about the film and the reception it had in Dallas’s skater community. He talked at length about how, as opposed to other skater communities he’d been a part of, Dallas’s community was more inclusive and accepting. The reason for this, he says, is that the people he has met focus on “be(ing) more compassionate...less ego, more cool.”
Then there was Ja’mari (instagram @jmari.wyatt), who was enthusiastically lending his board to give the female skaters something to jump as they each took turns demonstrating their skills. For Ja’mari, the skater community is a “safe haven,” a place where people of all types can find acceptance. Commenting on the sexism seemingly inherent in so many subcultures, he expressed frustration at this narrow mindedness, and emphasized that the male skaters present that night were there specifically to “show support” for the female members of their community.
Leilani, a female skater, echoed what I’d heard from her friends. Like the protagonist of the film, she follows Skate Kitchen on Instagram and has drawn inspiration from the all-girl skate collective. Even though the film highlights the gendered battles that can take place in the skater world, Leilani insisted that “egalitarianism is out there.” Before going to attempt another jump, she left me with a final thought, “I’m glad in Texas we’re (the skater community) are supportive of each other.”
These interactions, and the beautiful spectacle of dozens of skaters all performing in front of one of Dallas’s most historic buildings, flipping and jumping and flying against a purple sunset, was in short, the primary reason I look forward to the Oak Cliff Film Festival. You could play $6.99 and see most of the movies on Prime when they’re released to the public. With streaming (which I love) movie-going can be a solitary, completely private activity, and honestly, that’s something I adore about the modern world. But sometimes, nothing beats the experience of collective enjoyment, the thrill of coming together with strangers and being united, if only until the credits roll.
These talented skaters I met at OCFF this year were just a small part of the many interesting, exciting people I was able to interact with. Whether they were filmmakers or fans, the people I spoke with, drank with, joked with and watched movies with were part of what makes the festival experience so singularly good. It’s easy to feel like there are no safe places left, but at least for a bit, the OCFF’s premiere of Skate Kitchen and all the responses to it, helped me see otherwise.