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Film Review: Tribeca Skateboarding Movies
by Kathryn Loggins

The Scars of Ali Boulala - Documentary Competition
Directed by Max Eriksson

Everyone has scars, whether it be emotional or physical or both. The scars we carry with us remind us of where we’ve been and what we’ve overcome. In the case of Ali Boulala, a Swedish prodigy in the skateboarding scene in the 1990s, the scars he suffers from are much more psychological and truly run deep. In 2012 filmmaker Max Eriksson and Ali Boulala met at a bar - although Ali doesn't really remember the meeting. Actually, Ali has a hard time remembering much from his past, as we see in the film when he visits his mother in their family home. The camera lingers over a collection of cups imprinted with the names from places all over the world that he’s apparently been to. He shows the audience the cups, but seems to have no personal connection to them: “These are all I have left. I can’t remember s***.” Though at this point the audience doesn't exactly know what happened to Ali, it’s clear that his life has drastically changed from when he was a young dynamic skateboarder to where he is now.

The film has a kinetic energy to it as we follow archival footage of Ali from his younger days through the mid-2000s. We accompany Ali on his journey to becoming a professional skateboarder and being a part of a professional team touring the world. Much of the footage has that hand-held, lo-res type of feel that are so typical of skateboarding movies. The film actually opens with crediting every videographer as a cinematographer in the film, in order to show how many people really had a hand in telling this story. There’s also something very punk and edgy about it, and actually we see Ali grow into this punk persona in front of our eyes. But it’s not just about skateboarding, because Ali and his teammates may skate hard, but they party even harder. The constant drugs, drinking and getting into trouble overshadow the skateboarding footage and give the impression that this cannot end well. It's hard to watch at times, because you feel as though you're riding a freight train that’s headed off a cliff. When the film finally does lay bare the tragedy of the drunken motorcycle accident that put Ali in a coma and killed his best friend, it’s worse than you would’ve imagined. His life forever changed on one tragic night in 2007 - and it never had to happen, it could've been avoided, and Ali’s been wrestling with the thought of that ever since.

Ali Boulala may be a complicated figure, but he is extremely magnetic, and his wild child personality and immense skateboarding talent made him a star and extremely popular. Max Eriksson really wanted to understand why everyone was so drawn to him. In the virtual Q and A after the film he emphasized that he didn't want to make a film where everyone just “talked about how good at skateboarding Ali was.” He really wanted to give a full picture of who Ali Boulala was and what made him so irresistible. Through interviews with some of the people that were closest to Ali, including his teammates at the time, the filmmaker paints a fascinating portrait of a young man who really just wanted to have fun all the time. Wanting to have a good time coupled with very few real-life responsibilities is not a sustainable lifestyle and does end up in tragedy, but for a while the team all thought they were living their best lives. Not all the relationships were able to overcome the tragedy of the accident, but there are some friendships that have truly stood the test of time and have helped Ali wrestle with his demons, though none can ever take away the guilt he feels. Ali’s journey isn’t neat or tidy and much of this story is messy, but it’s refreshingly real and quite a remarkable story about the true highs and true lows a person can go through.

Joe Buffalo - Documentary Short
Directed by Amar Chebib

This short film follows the life of Joe Buffalo, a Native American skateboarder from the Cree people of Alberta, Canada. Told through reenactments and beautiful visuals the film chronicles Joe’s ancestral roots, his tragic childhood and the demons that haunted him as an adult trying to find his way in the world. He is an ancestor of Chief Poundmaker, who was a chief of the Plain Cree in the mid-1800s and known for being a peacemaker. This heritage is a great source of pride for Joe, and it makes the tragedy of his childhood even more heartbreaking. When Joe was eleven years old, he was forced from his reservation into the residential school system. This was a system set up by the Canadian government and run by the Christian church with the goal of assimilating Native American children to the dominant Canadian culture. This was an abusive and cruel system that ultimately destroyed families, Native American culture and also caused thousands of deaths and other abuses towards children. Joe Buffalo is among the last generation to be forced into these schools and the trauma they caused made his life take a very dark turn for years. Though he always wanted to become a professional skateboarder and represent his Native American people, his pull towards drugs and alcohol was too great to overcome. He would try to use skateboarding as a way to deal with his inner turmoil, but the drugs did a better job of masking it at the time. After a series of tragedies where his life just kept spiraling out of control, Joe Buffalo finally turns inward and confronts the trauma of his childhood and the intergenerational shackles that had been haunting his people for so long. Through this new lease on life, he is able to channel all of his energy into skateboarding and fulfills his lifelong dream of becoming a professional skateboarder and a mentor to young Native American children in his community.

Desert Dogs - Documentary Short
Directed by Samuel Morris

This short film from Swiss director Samuel Morris follows two Moroccan skateboarders Aya and Ibrahim, who label themselves as a part of the “new generation of Morocco.” They live in distinctly different environments: Aya is on the beach with only her fellow skateboarders and Ibrahim in the city with a traditional family unit. Both of these characters are subversive by nature and see skateboarding as a way of asserting their freedom and bucking tradition and religion. Skateboarding is not a game; it’s a way of life for them. Specifically Aya sees her role in the world as not just being a good skater, but a good person and her skate community upholds those values. Shot in different aspect ratios for the different characters, this film shows a contrast between two different perspectives on life that ultimately share a common goal. Skating is who they are and who they want to be. The simplicity of this message and the simplicity of the film itself is engaging and poetic. The film is less about showing a cool trick montage - although there is one of those - and more about showing the way life interacts with the skating community. The way that the camera captures Aya and Ibrahim skating in parks and on streets suggests this is more of a dance, in which the partners and their skateboard are the subject. And the dance is quite beautiful.