“Janay, Janay, Janay! That girl just fingered me in the bushes, bro,” drawls Nina Moran, who plays Kurt in the coming-of-age film Skate Kitchen. It’s her first sentence on screen, one of many one-liners she delivers with impeccable stoner nonchalance. It was this tone that caught director Crystal Moselle’s ear a couple years back while riding the G train through Brooklyn. Nina and her buddy Rachelle Vinberg were on the train with their skateboards shooting the shit, talking about some party, the usual, when Crystal overheard them.
“Firstly, seeing girls with skateboards was really adorable,” she recalls. “But when I look back I’m like, no, it’s not adorable. It’s important. They’re actually really good skateboarders and I’m sitting there judging, which is part of the way society looks at girls with skateboards: ‘Oh cute, they’re trying to skateboard.’ Not like, ‘Oh those girls know what they’re doing.’”
The internal and external tussles of girls carving out space in a dude’s world is one of the dominant through-lines in Crystal’s debut narrative film, and befriending Nina and Rachelle was the catalyst. They introduced the filmmaker to their all-female skate crew, The Skate Kitchen, and their first collaboration found form as the 2016 Miu Miu-funded short That One Day. This in turn served as the blueprint for the feature length Skate Kitchen, out this Friday. The story zeroes in on Rachelle as Camille, an introverted, watchful Long Islander who peels away from her disapproving mom to skate the LES park under the Manhattan Bridge. Camille’s desire to belong is palpable and Skate Kitchen maps this journey: awkward miscommunications, fumbling first times (Camille’s love interest is a rival skater played by Jaden Smith), and the invincibility you feel when you’ve finally found your tribe.
Although Skate Kitchen is scripted, the central characters are based on Rachelle, Nina, and their friends Kabrina Adams, Dede Lovelace, and Brenn and Jules Lorenzo. The scenes where they goof off and smoke pot, discuss relationships, periods, and the loneliness of 24/7 digital connectivity are all pulled from real conversations subsequently workshopped with Crystal and the girls over a period of months. Meanwhile the lingering frames and loose dialogue conveys a fly-on-the-wall intimacy, and the fluid choreography as the skaters surf the streets renders their movements in elegant, sun-flared slo-mo.
Today, although she might not look it, Crystal’s wiped, fresh home to NYC after two months of promo traveling to Russia, Germany, Spain, England, Portugal, and criss-crossing the States. The last time we met professionally was to discuss her 2015 Sundance award winning doc The Wolfpack—about seven home-schooled siblings, raised in complete isolation in a Lower East Side apartment. But the last time we saw each other personally was at The Wolfpack brother’s annual Halloween blow-out, where Crystal rocked up looking like a rave demon with a couple of the Skate Kitchen girls in tow too.
VICE: Back in 2014 you filmed a bunch of young ballerinas dancing around NYC for a Color War music video, then there was The Wolfpack , and now Skate Kitchen focuses on yet more characters on the cusp. Why are you so drawn to this age group?
Crystal Moselle: What I learned with this story versus The Wolfpack is that you don’t just have to be shut in your house your entire life to have this discovery phase. The girls see the world in a way that’s very pure and exciting and they’re very open. [But] this innocence goes away. With these girls, it’s already gone.
Oh no! When did it go?
They’re in this new stage, which is cool, and they’re very smart and incredibly talented, but there was a time when everything was new and it was beautiful. That’s why I knew I had to shoot the film—I had to capture this now.
You grew up in Marin County and were involved in the skate scene from 10 years old. What was your entry point at that young age?
I lost my innocence a lot earlier, which I think is to do with the way I was raised, feeling like I had to take care of my parents a little bit. My friends and I were early bloomers with sexuality and drugs. When I was in 6th grade all the guys started skating and I had a little pink skateboard. I can cruise around, but I can’t do tricks. I gave up. It’s this outsider culture that I was drawn to. It’s not a sport at school, there weren’t skateparks in my hometown. There was one place we called the red curb and we’d go after school and the boys would try and grind the curb. I grew up incredibly healthy and that was the stage where I was drinking Slurpees and eating candy…
Going to the 7-Eleven…
Yes! The 7-Eleven was a block away. That’s also where I first got stoned. It was a very 90s teenager moment. My mom had to pick me up because these cops called her: I was passed out in a park when I was 13 years old.
When you were spending time with these girls were there any conversations that surprised you?
It surprised me that they didn’t use tampons.
They just use pads? That is surprising.
I mean not all of them. But they’re really into the pad game. When I got my period I started using tampons right away.
Right, pads were not cool.
I mean they think they are, and they’re pretty cool, so… maybe there’s a revolution of pads coming back.
Why did you gravitate toward Rachelle in both your short and Skate Kitchen ?
I could tell there was something inside her. I could tell there was pain inside her and she wanted to talk about it, express it, and make things. She made herself available to be a part of the story. When I first met her she was definitely kind of shy. She’s not at all anymore.
Were the parental issues pulled from her own experience?
Oh yeah. The film is based on her life. They’re all playing versions of themselves, but the storyline is her mother is from Colombia, she’s first generation, her parents split up when she was young.
How is her relationship with her mom now?
She has a great relationship with her mom now. She moved out and has her own thing going on. It’s good.
What were some of the stories the girls shared with you about coming up in a massively male dominated scene?
Rachelle made up the name Skate Kitchen because she was looking at a video of a girl skating on YouTube and somebody wrote in the comments: “She belongs in the kitchen.” They live in this world of the internet and social media and there are a lot of trolls. All eyes are on them when they enter the skatepark because they’re the only girls. The guys might not be judging them, but they’re definitely watching them to see what they’re doing. And they can be condescending. It’s intimidating, but it’s definitely changing. Now the girls don’t care as much and they have more confidence and the more they try, the better they get. They go into these parks together and it’s inspiring for them to go and try and change things.
Do you feel the scene is becoming more inclusive and accepting, both of girls and the LGBTQ community?
Oh yeah! There’s a skateboarding crew in San Francisco called UNITY and it’s all LGBTQ skaterboarders. We did a skate jam there together. The boundaries are getting broken down. There’s a lot of judgement still, but people are starting to care less, which is important.
New York feels like a central and perhaps under-sung character of the film.
Oh yeah. I love showing that New York isn’t dead. I think for the girls, the city, the shapes of buildings, and what they see is such a big part of it. When they walk down the street they’re like, oh this would be so good for this, or that, or whatever. I wanted to show New York in a way that people don’t even know it exists. I love New York again after hanging out with these girls.
I’ve been entertained by some of the reviews where critics reduce Skate Kitchen to “ KIDS meets Girls.”
Yeah, I mean whatever. People are basic. [Laughs.] KIDS is about a young boy who is giving HIV to a bunch of people. It’s a day in the life, it’s sensational and it’s a great film, and it also shows the youth culture of that time. It’s not a skateboard movie. I understand it’s youth culture and youth culture is timeless. My film is about female empowerment—girls and femininity in a grimy world.
Were there any issues that the girls were dealing with that you didn’t identify with?
I think just being a skateboarder and going into male dominated situations was something I didn’t deal with. But I deal with that in other ways: As a director you walk on set and you’re the fucking boss. I don’t give a fuck, I’m like, fine.
Where does that confidence come from?
I kind of feel like I was oblivious when I was younger. Oblivious to the way things are until so many questions were asked after The Wolfpack—“What is it like to be a female director?” What do you mean? It’s fine. And then I started to notice things that I was just used to. How I have to fight a little bit harder. You just accept that, but I think now women are starting to not accept that. Our perspective is changing.
Skate Kitchen is in theaters August 10.
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