Director Crystal Moselle — who made a splash in the film world with her look into the lives of seven isolated and wildly creative brothers in 2015's The Wolfpack — wasn't looking to make a a coming-of-age movie about an all-girl skate crew in Lower Manhattan. Although she can skate ("I can get on and push around, but I can’t do tricks," she told Refinery29 on a recent call), fate struck when Moselle was on a different mode of transportation: Brooklyn's G train. Moselle's Skate Kitchen, out 28th September, is not a rom-com, but the meet-cute that sparked the entire journey certainly sounds like one.
"In all honestly, what brought my attention to them was Nina [Moran]," Moselle recalled. "She has this incredible voice, and her laugh is totally infectious. Then I saw [Moran and Rachelle Vinberg, the film's star] had skateboards, and I thought it was interesting to see girls with skateboards. I just went up to them and said, 'Hi.'"
Destiny has a wicked way of turning even the most chance encounters into the most life-changing. After meeting Nina, Rachelle, and later the whole squad of skaters, Moselle approached the Skate Kitchen crew about appearing in a short film for a Miu Miu campaign, titled "That One Day." The success and story behind the 2016 short unlocked a need to tell a more complete story of these young, fearless skaters. In the 2018 feature film, all the girls play slightly exaggerated versions of themselves. "I just wanted it to feel as authentic as possible," Moselle said of the organic transition that occurred as she went from random woman on the train, to friend, to director of a feature film based on their lives. "They already had a whole dynamic going into it from doing the short together, and then it took a life on its own. It’s all been growing since I’ve met them."
Skate Kitchen tells the story of Camille (Vinberg), an introverted Long Islander who stumbles upon an Instagram called Skate Kitchen (which does exist IRL) which would lead her down a path of self-discovery that changes her life for the better. Being a part of the Skate Kitchen crew, Camille starts to learn more about life and how to live it to the fullest. Her coming-of-age story feels different than other popular films centred around teenage girls figuring out their shit (Lady Bird and Eighth Grade come to mind) because Moselle beautifully blurs the line between documentary and narrative film. The intimacy of the conversations, and the lingering shots of the girls playing with their hair, or staring off into the distance, make the rather short movie (it's only 106 minutes long) feel like a glance into one girl's epic summer.
While it sounds difficult, if not impossible, to seamlessly weave together fact and fiction, Moselle says she actually prefers it. "It felt more natural for me to work with real people and non-actors collaborating," Moselle says. "I think with a documentary, I feel more restricted. I felt very free making this film." Freedom is the word to use when talking about Skate Kitchen, which, in addition to touching on the treacherous boundaries between boyfriends and best friends, also delves into the world of overbearing parents and complicated pasts.
"The movie is accurate to the real-life relationship Rachelle has with her mother," Moselle said when asked if any parents felt unwilling to let their daughters participate in the film. "But, I didn’t run into that at all when I was working with them. It was earlier on before I met them that she had problems with her mom, but they're all 18 now so they can do what they want."
But Skate Kitchen isn't just a movie about wheelies, ollies, and bananas (seriously, look out for all the bananas in the film), it's about being a young woman in 2018. "To me, the short film that we made really was about this one day in your life that changes everything; you’re a kid and then suddenly you’re doing young woman things," Moselle explained. "During the scene on the train [when the girls are talking about being taken advantage of by guys after drinking too much], me and one of the co-producers, Alliah [Mourad], were feeding [the cast] stories of stuff that had happened to us when we were young. Some of these girls haven’t experienced as much because they are very innocent. I am not sure they have dealt with some of the things that I have dealt with in my life. I just wanted to talk about these things that happen that you think are part of you being a girl, but should not be. These things shouldn’t happen to us."
Moselle says the movie was filmed before the #MeToo movement, but is happy to see the conversations around the movie resonating even more deeply now. The heavy moments in the film — impressively carried off by Vinberg in her acting debut (Jaden Smith, who plays her love interest, Devon, is the only professional actor in the film) — are outweighed by the light-hearted and wild ones. One party scene in particular comes to mind. Camille and her crew, boards in tow, take the train to Brooklyn and end up in a graffitied, sweaty, and pulsing rave-meets-skatepark warehouse party. The girls skate on the indoor ramp, smoke blunts in a crammed corner, experiment with drugs (and each other), before peeling themselves off the dance floor and ramp to head home in full daylight the next day.
Moselle says this memorable scene was inspired by an actual squat on Avenue C in New York's Alphabet City. "It had a skate ramp inside of it, so I was like we gotta build a skate ramp inside this party," she says. "I just wanted it to feel timeless, like a party that I would have gone to when I was young. We got all the kids that hang out from their scene to come through and party and be there with us." All those kids skating, drinking, vaping, grinding, living it the fuck up? "It was all their friends."
Beyond the wicked parties, Skate Kitchen stands out most for both its honest portrayal of being a young woman in 2018, and its total escapism. Much of the film is shot in line with the deck of a skateboard, letting the audience get a taste — even just for an hour — of the unbridled freedom the girls feel, cruising down a city street at sunset. The anxieties of life melt away, and it's just you and your Skate Kitchen crew. In the words of Nina, "Skate or die, bitch."