KVIFF 2018: Skateboarding vs Communism in Superb 'King Skate' Doc
by Alex Billington
July 5, 2018
"Stick close to the concrete. Jam through the space. Keep it moving." Skateboarding is not just a sport, its a means of expression, a way to liberate yourself and be truly free. To ride where you're not supposed to ride, to act the way you want to act, without anyone telling you how to be or what to do. There have been many skateboarding documentaries over the years previously, but this new one is a superb look at the early days of skateboarding in the country formerly known as Czechoslovakia. King Skate is a Czech documentary made by Simon Safránek, his first feature film, and it's packed with a mesmerizing selection of archival footage looking back at how skating became immensely popular in the 1970s & 1980s in this closed-off country. As expected, there's a rad punk soundtrack to compliment all the footage making it an intoxicating experience.
King Skate starts out splicing archival footage of early Czech skaters with archival footage of communism in the country. It's not just a film about skateboarding, it's a film about how skateboarding became one of the primary ways for the youth at the time to fight back against the communist regime. Safránek's film features some excellent editing that gives it this historical-political context, a unique touch, without ever wasting narration or extra explanation on what's going on. The images are juxtaposed and the footage presented in an intelligent way that allows viewers to easily understand the point being made here, but it never gets too political. This film is all about the people, the skaters themselves, those who resisted and became symbols of freedom for their country simply because they wanted to drink beer, have fun, and do whatever they wanted.
The documentary not only looks back in time with all of the old footage, but it also catches up with these skaters nowadays. Safránek reconnects with every last one of them, and talks with them about past and present. He goes with them to the places where they used to ride, and discovers some wisdom along the way. They chat briefly with a few Czech kids from today, who are much more interested in football (soccer) than skateboarding, because there's so much money it. But these guys used to ride because it gave them a feeling of freedom, not because there was any money in it. They didn't care about that. And there's a great moment at the end of the film where they mention this, they straight up say that once money gets involved it destroys everything. I'm glad Safránek worked this into the narrative and allowed this to be so clearly felt in the film.
Unless you're originally from Czechoslovakia, most viewers don't know that much about the country and its history. This film gives us a brief but intriguing look into its past through skateboarding. All the footage is awesome, and there's so much about these guys that will make you laugh and smile. It once again proves that skaters aren't hoodlums or idiots or punks, they're just people who want to express their freedom. I loved seeing how they developed their own techniques and tricks because they didn't have access to video outside of their country, they couldn't see what the Americans were doing. And they held their own contests and tournaments, which became very popular, proving there was a growing feeling of independence within the country. King Skate is an inspiring skateboarding doc that might just make you want to get out and ride.
Alex's Karlovy Vary 2018 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
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