This Ain't California
This Ain’t California is a film as wild, intriguing and chaotic as its hero, Denis Panicek aka Panik. It’s a stunning documentary about skateboarding culture in East Berlin in the 1980s, a time when leisure and recreation for pure fun was a political statement whether these kids liked it or not. Director Marten Persiel tells the the story of Nico and his best friend Denis, a troubled rebel who rejected the life mapped out for him in competitive swimming. One of the kids miraculously had access to a film camera and archival footage dominates the screen, cleverly edited with animation and present day shoots. One article I read seemed to doubt the authenticity of this footage and even of Denis himself. It'shard to know if there is more invention than usual in this film.
Denis sees Nico and his friend Dirk on homemade skateboards one day and an obsession begins. The three kids teach themselves tricks and have a whale of a good time. When Nico moves to the Berlin with his pop singing mother Denis soon follows and the two infiltrate the local skate scene. Small though it is, it contains wacky characters like the guy with the blond afro who did skateboard handstands forever. The skaters walk a precarious political line and sometimes try to blend into the the socialist sporting state program by training as instructors and organizing tours. At this point the authorities hope to harness the enthusiasm of these youths and dominate the new serious skateboarding competitions. At one such competition in Prague, the East German skaters finally see the world. They are embraced by their West Germany brothers who start to smuggle better equipment across the border.
Denis (now known as Panik) is the charismatic centre of their East Berlin subculture. Everyone knows him as a wild child and he acts as expected, with destruction, mayhem and partying. You can tell that the skaters are living life to the fullest, looking for more than the grey shabbiness of the last days of East Germany. But Denis is clearly more troubled than the rest and the film is framed by news of his death as a solider in Afghanistan. None of his old friends have seen him for years and they gather in an old skate haunt to smoke, drink and reminisce. The state police final arrested Denis just as the wall was collapsing and the friends never really reconnected. The film is a testament to his fearlessness which inspired all those around him. It’s a fascinating film and it puts the personal story in perfect harmony with the social and political climate of the time. It’s certainly a great companion piece to the seminal skate culture film, Dogtown & Z Boys, though rougher around the edges.
Plays Oct 06 10:30 am at Empire Granville Cinema 2.