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. Skate Kitchen follows a group of teenage girl skateboarders and activists rolling their way through the streets of New York. This time, she met them on the subway.
“I learned to understand my instinct,” Moselle says. “There’s this thing that happens to me … 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.”
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. In an interview, Moselle told NPR about how it came to be.
On meeting the real-life Skate Kitchen crew
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 [Moran] — 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?
On what Moselle aimed to capture about New York City and this community
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.
On the central role of social media among young people in this film
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 no 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.
On the scene where a young girl looks at the Skate Kitchen crew with admiration
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.
Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi and Natalie Friedman Winston produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.