There is something unique about skating. It’s not a sport, really, and it goes beyond the literal activity and transforms into a sense of solidarity. There have been countless skate films down the years, but Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen showcases something new – a special kind of harmony that emerges when a group of contemporary young women push their bodies through the busy streets of New York City.
The seeds of Skate Kitchen are found in a short film Moselle made with the same skate crew two years ago. That One Day is an insight into how just a 24-hour period in a teenager’s life can change everything – here portrayed through a young woman’s first skate. That ethos is carried on into Skate Kitchen as we follow Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), a teenager on the cusp of adulthood, and her coming of age journey as a skater in New York City. She feels stranded in the Long Island suburbs and so she plots to sneak out against her mother’s wishes to skate sessions in the city. She quickly cultivates a kinship with members of the Skate Kitchen, a tight-knit group of diverse, supportive and funny young women. While the film isn’t strictly tied to a plot, the rest of the film tracks Camille’s often-bruising (physically and emotionally) journey through a summer of love interests, teenage rebellions and fights between best friends.
This is Moselle’s first feature since her 2015 documentary Wolfpack, when she came across the extraordinary Angulo family when walking on the streets of Manhattan. You can read our interview with her at the time here. Her directorial talents and her refined eye for detail now gives us Skate Kitchen after Moselle had a chance encounter with two of the lead skaters – Rachelle Vinberg and Nina Moran – whilst riding on the New York subway. Moselle explained “I don’t find things. They find me. Every time I try to look for stuff, it doesn’t work. It’s not like I haven’t tried. The best things have been those things that just came to me”.
Skate Kitchen is a real-life skate crew which first found fame on Instagram. When Moselle convinced them to work with her, the main skaters took up six months of acting classes – preparing them to turn their lives into a quasi-fictional film (which makes the fact that Vinberg excels as the lead even more commendable). Moselle told us that she wanted to make a documentary when she first met the girls, but she was later persuaded against this. “I wanted to make a documentary at first! But Kim Yutani – a programmer from Sundance – said ‘What are you doing? The short film really worked. Pursue that.’ So, I did. Since then, I didn’t want to step back and just observe. I wanted to work with them, so that was really fun. We did that on the short, so the feature was a chance to take that one step bigger”.
Moselle’s strength as a director comes from her collaboration with her film subjects and the way she allows the camera to linger on scenes just long enough for the audience to feel immersed in this community. This evident trust and admiration between all those involved helps blur the boundary between documentary and fiction, with scenes of the skate girls hanging out keenly resembling authentic conversations caught on camera in a documentary.“I love collaborating with these girls, making stuff and just hanging out with them. They are really good girls. They are inspiring women and they represent something very different to what I was used to growing up. Girls could be mean and I’m so over the whole ‘mean girl’ thing. It was just so refreshing to meet these girls”. Moran chimes in that women skaters ‘just got to work together, you know, as friends’ before adding that this sense of support is what the film was about. Moselle further concurs “Women used to have to fight to be in these spaces. But now they are making the space themselves”.
Fans of skate films often hark back to the 90s but Skate Kitchen doesn’t need to. There is nothing retro or nostalgic in its gaze. Although the film renews a skate gang legacy, that never feels like its purpose. Instead, the film simply captures a new face of a skate scene coming to its fore. Just like skate films of the past, Skate Kitchen is at its best and most beautiful when it slows down and spends time with its characters on top of tall rooftops, inside tenement flats or outside street corners. On this note, Moselle exclaims “I feel like we just did our own thing. We never thought about being a skate film. I just wanted to capture them”.
Dede Lovelace, another skater, adds “We are rebuilding skating in a different way. Skateboarding died for a little bit – and then it came back to life gradually. We are helping to create new portions of that, for women, that didn’t exist before. We reach so many people with Instagram nowadays”. Perhaps the best way to sum up the movie is the togetherness glimpsed in a scene where the other Skate Kitchen members rally together to get Camille a new board, after her mother confiscated hers. The crew evolves into a chosen family of sorts – giving Camille the support she needs when her relationship with her family crumbles. This magnetic snapshot of a skate collective allows even Jaden Smith, the film’s sole celebrity name and who plays Camille’s love interest, to effortlessly blend in as one of the skaters.
While the plot can feel contrived at times, particularly when the conflict sometime comes across as if forcibly injected into certain scenes, this does little to take away from the aesthetically-engrossing and unique portrayal of a summer in the city at an age when you feel invincible. A kinetic and meditative visual style captures these teenage bodies along a journey and it never fails to please to see the young skaters breeze down busy Manhattan streets, gripping onto the back of buses and battling back against a city apathetic or hostile to their existence. All in all, Skate Kitchen develops into a film worthy of becoming a rallying call for teens growing up.
Skate Kitchen is released 28th September 2018.
Words by Oliver Smith @oliisaac_.