BFI London Film Festival 2011: ‘Dragonslayer’


Director Tristan Patterson’s award-winning documentary Dragonslayer (2011) (SXSW Grand Jury Prize for best documentary feature) documents the life of Josh ‘Skreech’ Sandoval, a jaded skateboarding veteran living in the sun-drenched, extreme sports-loving town of Fullerton, California.

Skreech’s skateboarding career has almost grounded to a complete halt and despite his local fame his sponsorship deals have began to dwindle away, whilst his appearances at international championships have diminished to just a few fleeting excursions a year. However, he seems content to spend his time bumming around America, crashing at friend’s houses whilst taking in the sun and occasionally recapturing his once famous sporting prowess in the disused swimming pools of abandoned homes – now in abundance across a recession struck America.

His carefree existence distracts him from his paternal responsibilities, yet he strongly believes that his decision to explore the world will help make him a better farther in the long run. Now devoted to his 19-year-old girlfriend Leslie (despite her aspirations of studying at college) the pair embarks on a stateside tour consisting of punk rock camping trips, amateur skate competitions and reconnecting with old friends.

It soon becomes abundantly clear Dragonslayer is less a documentary about the sport which defines its subject but rather a cinematic exploration of an individual who just so happens to be a skateboarder. Whilst Skreech’s educational journey (learning about the importance of love and fatherly responsibilities) is mildly marred by the insurmountable fact that he’s hardly the most lovable protagonist the world has ever seen, there is little doubt his life is of great interest.

Heavily influenced by the work of Larry Clark and Gus van Sant, this documentary has a visually alluring cinematic style which often makes you forget your watching a factual biopic. However, the directors decision to segregate the film into eleven different ‘chapters’ hinders the film’s frantic pace, bizarrely turning a modest run time into an ostensibly lengthy and disjointed experience. Dragonslayer’s hugely enjoyable alternative rock soundtrack helps to diminish the effects of this narrative setback. Featuring such pioneering acts as Dungeon, Best Coast and The Soft Pack, the Californian surfer rock score is in-keeping with the film’s subject matter whilst also successfully capturing the energy of the surrounding action.

Effectively channelling skate culture, Dragonslayer is very much a punk rock manifesto for a disenfranchised, recession hit youth – translating real life into cinema against a backdrop of a dwindling western economy. Dragonslayer can at times become an unbearable portrait of a tremendously unlikeable protagonist, surrounded by equally dislikeable friends, however, the film’s poetic visual aesthetics certainly makes up for it, creating an unusually realistic, yet vividly sumptuous portrayal of one man’s struggle through life.

For more BFI London Film Festival 2011 coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble

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