Presented by Vans Unbound

Watch This Retro-Looking Doc About Growing Up Skateboarding in Northern Ontario

'Northern Kicks' makes a strong case for never getting a job and hanging out in a barn with all your best mates forever instead.

by Aidan Johnston
Sep 24 2018, 3:27pm

Bonding over our common love for skating, art, fashion and cool, weird shit, VICE and Vans partnered to launch Unbound—a series that enables emerging Canadian creatives to work on what they love.

Firework fights; getting pushed around in a shopping cart; chucking shit off waterfalls; these are the kind of coming-of-age film hallmarks that either stoke our nostalgia or remind many of us that we wasted our teenage years hanging out in online chatrooms. But where films like Ladybird or Mid90s attempt to recapture the feeling of definitive bygone eras, the new documentary short Northern Kicks from director Laura-Lynn Petrick took her back to her hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario to document what hanging out in a secluded town looks like now.

Located 17 hours from Toronto with a population just peering over 100,000, Thunder Bay is the type of picturesque backwoods Canadian town that seemingly offers nothing to do, but everywhere to do it. “I left, and now I’m kind of removed from my own groups that I grew up with” the director reflected on a recent trip back home. “It’s cool to see people in their early 20s still here and really taking advantage of the town and what it has to offer.”

The film introduces us to a crew of skaters who spend their days cracking cans, dyeing each others' hair, cliff jumping, and generally living the contemporary idylls of the lost boys. Petrick weaves a hazy, dreamlike picture of youthful abandon that's brought to life through a heady mix of 8mm, Hi-8, and Mini DV formats.

“I just like the variation, and I know that skate films are filmed on all three quite often” she says of the motivation behind the mixed media. “It kind of blends the decades, so it’s nice to bring out that inspiration with the different cameras.”

It’s an approach that gives the film a timeless quality, making it feel like it would fit on someone’s Instagram as easily as in a curbside box of old VHS skate vids. But part of that timelessness is owed to the location itself—as Petrick explains, “Thunder bay looks so old fashioned as it is, we’re so stuck in the past.”

Taking inspiration from the naturalistic approach of along-for-the-ride documentary’s like Spike Jonze’s Amarillo By Morning, Petrick’s film doesn’t make judgements or conclusions about her characters, but rather offers outsiders a brief glimpse into the bonds of friendship that come to define time and place in our lives.

“I don’t like things that are too contrived. Just centre stuff on humanity and see how it goes.”

Laura-Lynn Petrick