Caitlin Quinlan Sundance Film Festival

Sundance London 2018: Skate Kitchen review

★★★★☆

A young skateboarder discovers her tribe and falls into the intricacies of young adult friendship in Skate Kitchen, the first narrative film from filmmaker Crystal Moselle, known for her documentary work The Wolfpack.

Moselle’s film captures a unique insight into an unexplored subculture, focusing on a group of passionate skater girls in New York City. Protagonist Camille admires the Manhattan-based girls from afar, following their progress on their Instagram page before trekking over from Long Island to tentatively join in. She is eighteen and longing for a life away from her mother’s protective habits.

For all of her new friends, skating is life – but it is also part of a wider teenage hedonism that they introduce Camille to. She smokes weed for the first time, goes out to parties, even learns how to use a tampon. Camille is invited into a family, falling headfirst into this world miles away from the pressures of home. She soon realises, however, that the codes of friendship are trickier than she may have expected as boys and jealousies seep into the group dynamic.

The director is adept at capturing those small glimpses of beauty in everyday things – flashes of sunlight glinting off train tracks, the glow of a friendly smile, the spinning wheel of a skateboard. Legs and ankles speed past the camera which is barely able to keep up with these moving bodies. Summer in the city is captured at golden hour, or in the soft dusk of evening, as friends roll away the hours.

This sense of the corporeal is sustained throughout – bodies sweating, hugging, zipping through the air – as Camille begins to discover a new group of friends and quickly learns all the new ways they interact with their own bodies. Skate Kitchen opens with Camille attaining a shocking injury in an accident while skating and, while the scene is approached with subtlety, the brutality of the moment lingers and immediately the film is attuned to her body and what she is willing to put herself through.

Skate Kitchen revolves around, and takes its name from, an actual skating pack of girls, with an Instagram following of over 60,000. The real life bond between the cast is what makes the film so undeniably special. Their closeness to one another and frankness with their conversations – about boys, periods, vaginas – escapes any unfortunate contrivances of a more manufactured written dialogue. Even in a narrative version of these girls’ world, their honesty and trust in one another is powerful and joyous to watch. It is also a celebration of a truly diverse group, with women of colour placed front and centre and their talent on full display.

The attraction of such a community is clear and the film highlights this with a graceful touch. Skate Kitchen is an engaging film, deeply connected to an intriguing group with a bond that translates so well on screen. Their humour, companionship and support for one another is never in doubt, and their vibrant spirit, so effortlessly cool, is championed and revered.

Sundance London 2018 runs from 31 May-2 June at Picturehouse Central.

Caitlin Quinlan