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'Skate Kitchen' Follows Teenage Girls Skateboarding Their Way Through NYC

Aug 12, 2018
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LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

Director Crystal Moselle made waves three years ago when her documentary "The Wolfpack" won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The film told the true story of six brothers growing up in confinement in Manhattan's Lower East Side. And it all began from a chance encounter Moselle had with the brothers on the street. Her new film comes from a similar place. It's called "Skate Kitchen," and it follows a group of teenage girl skateboarders rolling their way through the streets of New York. Like "The Wolfpack," Moselle first encountered the subjects of "Skate Kitchen" in real life, but this time, she wove their stories into a narrative feature film. To hear more about "Skate Kitchen," writer-director Crystal Moselle joins us now from our studios in New York. Crystal, thanks so much for speaking with us.

CRYSTAL MOSELLE: Hi. Thanks for having me.

SINGH: So, first, tell us what - or who - is "Skate Kitchen?"

MOSELLE: Well, "Skate Kitchen" is a group of girls in New York City that are skateboarders and activists. They encourage women to get out of their comfort zone and skateboard.

SINGH: So it's 2016. You had just come off a year where you earned acclaim for "Wolfpack." And then the following year, you're on a train. What happens next?

MOSELLE: I was on the train in New York City. I was on the G train. And I heard this voice that just - you know, sometimes there's a voice that's so charismatic, you just have to figure out who's talking and what's happening. I mean, that's how I am. And I look over, and there's these three teenage girls, and they have skateboards. And Nina - she's telling a story. I can't remember what the story was about. I think maybe it was about a party she went to or something that happened in the park that day. And she has that kind of voice that almost silences a room where you want to - just everybody stops what they're doing and they want to see who's talking.

And so I - just out of curiosity and out of this instinct that I've kind of gained from my past project, I just - I feel like there's this moment where I sort of know that there's something there and I have to figure it out. And I went up to them and asked them - I just said, hey, you know - introduced myself. I said, my name's Crystal. I'm a filmmaker, and I'd love to talk to you guys. Maybe you guys would be interested in doing some sort of video project at some point. And apparently, I said - I don't remember saying this - I said, is there more of you? Which...

SINGH: (Laughter) They must've looked at you like who the heck is this crazy woman, which is weird for them because they probably except everybody. But nobody comes up to them saying what you said.

MOSELLE: Yeah. And I got their number and their emails. And I kind of just, like, put it on the backburner because I was working on another project at that moment. But then I got an email from MuMu (ph), which is, like, a fashion brand that does these women tale projects where they have women do films twice a year, and then they show them at the Venice Film Festival. And they reached out to me, and I instantly thought of the girls. I was like, oh, this could be a really great short film.

SINGH: The film tells the story of Camille, like we were saying. She's a skateboarder from Long Island. She befriends this group of really confident city skater ladies. What was it that you wanted to capture first about New York City and about this particular world inside this city?

MOSELLE: Well, I think that they have a really unique relationship with the architecture of the city and the way that they see things. It's funny because people always say, oh, New York is dead. And I say you don't hang out with enough young people because they have a completely different perspective. And you know, when I was young in New York City, I was hanging out in the Lower East Side and the East Village. We didn't really venture out to Brooklyn that much because that was, like, 20 years ago.

But now, like, they've found all these really interesting pockets, and they go to these skate parks, and they have these, like, spots that they skateboard and they just use the architecture of buildings. And you know, people chase them away. And it's just, like, this kind of really riveting scene. And I would just start hanging out with them and experiencing it myself. They'd even, like, make me jump on the skateboard. They're like, if you're going to hang out with us, you have to skateboard. Here's the board. Skate down the block.

SINGH: Your film, Crystal, is one of several this year that engages with the question of how social media is changing the way that young people grow up. I'm thinking of Bo Burnham's recent film, "Eighth Grade," which casts a more sinister light on our constant immersion in social media. Instagram and social media, central to this particular story we're talking about - what were your impressions from spending so much time with this group of young people?

MOSELLE: Well, I think what's actually a really positive thing is that it's actually bringing these women together because, you know, in the film, they meet through Instagram. But in real life, the girls actually met through YouTube. They would be commenting on each other's videos and, you know, that's how they would create these communities because it's difficult. Like, if you're a girl living on Long Island and there's other girls around that skateboard, you can go to, you know, a social media platform to find other women that also do the same thing that you do that's, like, something specific.

And for me, like, I'm - I think one of my passions is actually, you know, doing projects with young people that are passionate about something. Like, I'm always very drawn to that. Like, I did a music video on these girls that are young ballerinas in New York City - and, of course, "The Wolfpack." But I think that it's actually a really positive thing to be able to find people that are, I guess, your tribe.

SINGH: Do you think the extensive time that you spent working on "Wolfpack" played a significant role in being able to notice other coming-of-age communities like the skateboarders of "Skate Kitchen?"

MOSELLE: I mean, it's just kind of hilarious that I've found another group of teenagers - like, almost as many in similar age and...

SINGH: No, but I'm serious here, right? Because you're on the train - I mean, really, almost everyone pays attention to nobody else. They're looking straight ahead. But somehow, it seems as if your senses have been heightened since "Wolfpack." Did you get that?

MOSELLE: I learned - I mean, I learned to understand my instinct. There's this thing that happens to me - like, it's like similar, like, almost like when you're attracted to somebody. I'm like, oh, this is something. This is interesting. I just - I have to explore it.

SINGH: I just wanted to note one more interesting moment where a woman with - I presume is her daughter - and the skateboarders pass her, and the girl turns really quick and almost looks at them with admiration.

MOSELLE: Yep.

SINGH: I remember sort of doing that when - long time ago - we had, you know, young women who were on roller skates, you know, going down the street in New York City. But there was this admiration of I don't know if I'll ever be on skates, but, God, I wish I could be her right now.

MOSELLE: Yeah, I did witness that happen when I was with Rachelle one day - Rachelle Vinberg, who plays Camille - she was skating with all these boys. And they all rolled by, and the little girl didn't notice them at all. And then Rachelle rode by with her hair just like in the wind. It was just an epic moment - she's, like, carving down this hill. And this little girl, like, stopped in her tracks and just watched her and, like, saw the future, you know? And so I - the girl in the film is actually my goddaughter.

SINGH: Oh.

MOSELLE: Yeah.

SINGH: What's her name?

MOSELLE: Stella.

SINGH: Stella.

MOSELLE: Stella.

SINGH: Awesome.

Crystal Moselle is a filmmaker. Her new film, "Skate Kitchen," opened this week.

Crystal Moselle, thank you so much for speaking with us.

MOSELLE: Thank you. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.