With a lively dose of realism and some strong performances, Skate Kitchen is a hugely promising sophomore feature from Crystal Moselle.
If anyone were ever to be in any doubt over the platform that the Sundance Film Festival provides for new filmmakers, just look to Crystal Moselle. In 2015, she arrived at the festival with her debut feature in hand, the documentary The Wolfpack. Moselle took home the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary award, and thus an exciting new voice in film came to be. Fast forward three years and Moselle returned to the festival, this time with her sophomore feature length and first non-documentary piece, Skate Kitchen. The newest entry in a long line of American independent vérité style films, one of Skate Kitchen‘s greatest strengths is its real-world depiction; a world of teenage-Instagram generation skaters in and around New York, centred on Rachelle Vinberg’s Camille.
Moselle’s direction is what makes this world come to life; every scrape of a skateboard along a ramp or bar, every grate of a board’s wheels on the concrete, every POV skater shot, every cut between board, wheel, ground, ramp, bar and skater, is used to create an immersive experience for Skate Kitchen. As the audience, we feel as much a part of this underground skater world as the girls on screen do. The close quarters cinematography furthers this, as Moselle and her cinematographer Shabier Kirchner place us alongside or among the girls in almost every moment. We are overwhelmed by the idyllic New York lights and sunsets, we feel the adrenaline rush of skating along the roads of the city that never sleeps, and we too experience the pain of every failed trick, fall and fight. American independent cinema has seen an increased emulation of the European art house vérité films in recent years, and it is the simplicity of its content and the stylisation of its construction that often elevates the best of the best. In this vein, Skate Kitchen has an exact vision of what it wants to be, and Moselle nails this presentation. This is a film that uses both Junior Senior’s ‘Move Your Feet’ and Khalid’s ‘Young Dumb & Broke’ as part of its soundtrack and neither feel misplaced, nor at odds with each other, despite their differing styles and decade-plus age difference. Moselle’s direction and overall vision really is key.
Moselle’s cast is comprised largely of the same skater girls she decided to base the film on, this utilisation of non-professionals fitting to the director’s unmistakable style. Rachelle Vinberg, Ardelia Lovelace, Nina Moran, Kabrina Adams, Jules Lorenzo and Brenn Lorenzo as the girls of the titular Skate Kitchen group give such strong performances and have such a natural group dynamic. The group’s chemistry furthers the unique immersion provided by the film; not only does Moselle’s aesthetic presentation draw us in, simply spending time with these girls makes us feel like we know each of them and are a part of their group. The midway introduction of Jaden Smith is thus somewhat jarring, as he doesn’t provide as authentically simple of a performance as the rest of the cast. Whilst he has good chemistry with Vinberg, his presence begins to mark a slight derailment point in the film’s second half, particularly as its pace begins to drag significantly and the focus shifts away from the Skate Kitchen girls.
Whilst Skate Kitchen is certainly an acquired taste and of a style that many may not be acquainted to, the film still boasts several rewards. With its unique identity and fantastic direction from Moselle, along with a superbly natural cast, Skate Kitchen is an exciting output from the burgeoning director, especially given that this is her first narrative feature. Be sure to keep your eyes on Crystal Moselle…
Skate Kitchen (2018), directed by Crystal Moselle, played as part of the 2018 Sundance London Film Festival. It will be released in UK cinemas on September 28th, distributed by Modern Films, certificate TBC.