In The Wolfpack, director Crystal Moselle created a vibrant portrait of a group of the Angula brothers who’d learned everything from the movies. With her follow-up, Skate Kitchen, she may have shed the documentary genre, but she remains committed to showcasing hidden communities in the vastness that is New York City, with a focus on the Lower East Side. The title of her latest feature, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, is the name of a group of skater girls in the city — the very same that Camille (newcomer Rachelle Vinberg), finds via their kinetic Instagram account. As the members of Skate Kitchen show Camille what it means to be part of a group, she’ll find her loyalty tested when she also befriends a boy from a rival skater group.
Part of what makes Moselle’s film such a colorful look at this underground community is the fact that she worked closely with real-life members of Skate Kitchen. Much of the script and story was workshopped alongside her leading ladies. They each brought an authenticity that would have otherwise evaded the game director. That’s nowhere more evident than in the way Camille interacts with her protective mother (played by Orange is the New Black‘s Elizabeth Rodriguez) who’s not in favor of her skateboarding. Where her mother often addresses her in Spanish, Camille opts instead to answer her in English, offering an all-too relatable image of how second-generation Latinos speak at home.
As Moselle explained at a Q&A in Park City, the fact that Rachelle’s mother is Latina in real life was woven organically into her fictional role in the film and that bilingual dynamic was key. “That was just me interviewing Rachelle about how she would communicate with her mother. Her mother came from Colombia,” she explained, “and met some man in New York City and they got together and had children.” More tellingly, the moment when Camille talks back in Spanish is the kind of subtle character detail that speaks volumes when it comes to respecting one’s family and one’s heritage.
In lieu of a trailer, check out the short film that inspired the feature Skate Kitchen to get a sense of the authentic vibe that got Sundance buzzing and see the these skater girls in action.
Additional reporting by Vanessa Erazo.