At the start of the documentary Slomo, Dr. John Kitchin is frustrated. The neurologist realizes that his life is just a series of busy workdays leading up to an inevitable death. Being a doctor for him is no longer about helping people; it's about the size of his paycheck. Then things start to break down, and nothing works quite like it's supposed to. Kitchin struggles with his work, his vision blurs, and almost all faces start to become unrecognizable to him. Ultimately, he is diagnosed with prosopagnosia (face-blindness). Reeling from the diagnosis and feeling depressed with his cookie-cutter life, Kitchin starts to ask himself that important question: What makes me happy?
For most people out there, rollerblading wouldn’t make their top 50, but that is Kitchin’s number one. Almost overnight, he goes from being an affluent neurologist in a lab coat to a homeless-looking rollerblading weirdo who goes by the name “Slomo.” Filmmaker Josh Izenberg heard about Slomo through the grapevine and made his way to Pacific Beach, California, where he started documenting the incredible story of a man who gave up everything and got everything in return. It’s poignant, funny, wise, and inspirational. It also won a shit ton of awards and is probably one of the best ways to spend 15 minutes. Check out the film below.
Josh hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he earned a degree in screenwriting at the University of Michigan. He's worked as a copy writer, a cab driver, and a carpenter. Slomo is his first documentary. It was short-listed for best documentary short at this year’s Academy Awards and won best doc at SXSW, AFI Docs, Sheffield Doc/Fest, and more than a dozen others. I gave him a call to talk about it.
VICE: At what point after meeting Slomo/Dr. John Kitchin did you know you had a film?
Josh Izenberg: After my first phone call with Slomo, before I even met him in person, I had a sense that he'd be an interesting guy to watch and listen to and could sustain a film. He had a mix of high-minded philosophical discourse and down-home Southern candor that I found made it easy to listen to him for hours on end. At least, for me, it did. That said, I think it was when I saw the first skating shots that I realized this thing could actually be a film. Or maybe it was when our editor, Traci Loth, put together an initial rough cut, and our producer, Amanda Micheli, said, "Congratulations. You've got a movie." It was a cumulative process.
How has the reception been for the film, and has it affected Slomo's skating in San Diego?
The reception for the film has been tremendous. Mostly positive. It's definitely sparked some discourse. There are those out there who feel that John is wasting an opportunity in his golden years—maybe to help people, to continue to practice as a neurologist, etc. Some people find what he's doing to be frivolous, or find it threatening in some existential way, which is OK. I think a film should create a dialogue. That said, most people seem to find his story inspirational. For his part, Slomo's skating has only been positively impacted by the film. Or at least, that's what he's told me. People in San Diego and on Pacific Beach, in particular, have been supportive... I don't think he's getting mobbed for autographs or anything.
Does he have a lady skater in his life? Is he even interested?
There is a "lady skater." Though she actually rides a pink beach cruiser.
Do you think there's something to his skating style—does it Zen you out? Have you taken it up?
Slomo's skating style Zens me out; that's for sure. But he makes it look easier than it is. It's really hard to do. I've tried it on a skateboard too. It takes practice. He's imparted some pieces of skating wisdom, though, that have changed the way I surf. He told me to skate in my boots—not in front of them, and not behind them. I've tried to translate that to surfing, and I think it's useful advice.
What are you working on now?
I'm currently working on documentaries about boxing in Lansing, Michigan, and drug addiction in Peru. And I'm producing a doc about a former opera singer who now lives on the streets of the Tenderloin in San Francisco.
Jeffrey Bowers is a tall mustached guy from Ohio who's seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as an art and film curator. He is a programmer at the Hamptons International Film Festival and screens for the Tribeca Film Festival. He also self-publishes a super fancy mixed-media art serial called PRISM index.