There’s a brief moment in Crystal Moselle‘s Skate Kitchen that’s hard to miss. A group of teenage girls, some in long pants, some in shorts, some with afros, some with long flowing hair, skate down a New York City street. They pass a young girl who’s captivated by their movement. The camera catches her wide-eyed awe as she sees “The Skate Kitchen,” what these girls call themselves, whizz by. Moselle lingers on the girl’s reaction because it captures the kind of empowerment that she wants audiences to take away from her film. This group of unruly and fearless teenagers, who talk openly about sex and friendship all the while celebrating their own skating prowess, sends an intersectional feminist message out into the world loud and clear.
At the heart of the film is Camille (Rachelle Vinberg). Like the rest of The Skate Kitchen crew, the young Latina plays a fictionalized version of herself and serves as the entry point into the world of female skaters Moselle captures on screen. A moody teen living in Long Island who spends her days watching skate videos on Instagram, she eventually hops on a train into the city to see those girls she so admires up close. Soon, she’s joining them at the skate park and bonding with them over everything from boys to tampons. But as her frayed relationship with her mother (played by Elizabeth Rodriguez) gets worse and she starts falling for a boy (played by Jaden Smith) that once dated one of her new BFFs, Camille’s summer proves to be a backdrop to a touching coming-of-age tale.
Ahead of a preview screening of the film at House of Vans hosted by Rooftop Films, Vinberg told us that shooting Skate Kitchen was super fun. “It felt like summer camp.” Mostly because it allowed her to dig deep into what she loves most about what she does. “Honestly I don’t think I’d been skating this long if it wasn’t for the lifestyle—the community, the people who gravitate towards it,” she told us. The words she uses to describe them (“very open-minded, artistic, creative”) accurately applied to the crowd the crew and film attracted in Brooklyn, where teens gathered to catch The Skate Kitchen show off their skills before the film screened for a raucous crowd.
Moselle’s doc The Wolfpack had already shown her ability to capture unique New York City communities with empathy and curiosity. And in making her move to fiction filmmaking, she’s kept her documentary instincts intact. After meeting The Skate Kitchen and shooting a short film with them, she realized there was a feature-length story there somewhere. Vinberg admitted that her on-screen relationship with her mother mirrored her own experience growing up with a strong-willed Colombian mother. The film has its share of all-out fights in Spanish because Camille refuses to stop skating.
“Now I take her strictness and her assertiveness—I understand it was all out of love. At the time, though, it was kind of intense,” she shared. “But we’re good now. I think it’s just something that a lot of adolescents go through, especially girls at that age — I mean, look at Lady Bird. It’s like the same thing. That’s basically the relationship I have with my mom.”
Adding to the surreal nature of playing a slightly different-if-not-quite-so version of herself for the camera, was the fact that Rodriguez, known to Netflix viewers as Aleida, Litchfield prison’s least likely to win a Mother Of The Year Award, would be taking on the role of her mom. “My friend and I used to watch Orange is the New Black when we were younger, when I was like 16,” she told us. “We would always make fun of her character and be like, ‘Aw, that’s like my mom!’ Because my mom is mad scary sometimes. And then Crystal told me she was going to be my mom and we were like, What the fuck?”
As we parted she was giddy at the thought of such a big crowd getting a chance to catch the film ahead of its release, especially given the message of strong female community it represents. “I’m excited for them to see all of it. I love the scenes with all of us just hanging out. We put a lot of time and effort into this movie — more than anyone would know. Just putting it out there in the world is exciting.”
Skate Kitchen opens in select theaters on August 10, 2018.