We Build Ramps, Not Bombs — The Skateistan Documentary

Sometimes I cheat on Netflix with Hulu. I have found some memorable films there, albeit the flick mining is even more treacherous down in the Hulu mines as it is in the Netflix one. Discoveries like Skateistan: Four Wheels And A Board In Kabul (2011), which can be viewed for free and in full here make the toil and the finger cramping more bearable. Directed by Kai Sehr, this wonderful documentary is about the rise of skateboarding in the Afghan capital. The sport is introduced by a few do-good Australians with a background in activism and skateboarding, who have dubbed themselves Skateistan (here is their website). They clean out a filthy, abandoned fountain in the city, and convert it into a spot to skate. Then they hand out a few skateboards to the city kids, and a phenomenon is born.

Admirably, Sehr tries to tell the stories of the poor city kids who keep showing up to the makeshift skate park. Of particular note are the girls who skate there: just by taking part in the activity, these girls are challenging social mores of the Afghan society. To give you some perspective: skating down a street in Kabul as a female is considered taboo.

One of my favorite scenes of the documentary is when the Skateistan guys visit with the mother of one of the kids they employ as a skateboard instructor. Oliver Percovich — the founder of Skateistan who goes by the nickname Ollie — tells her that as a condition of his employment the boy must enroll in the fourth grade and should devote time to his studies. In response, the boy’s mom tells the boy how lucky he is to get this opportunity and that he shouldn’t squander it. This she says to her fourth grader. You get the sense right there just the kind of place Kabul is right now, and how fortunate we are in this country.

In addition to these sorts of individual tales, a good portion of the story is about Skateistan’s goal of getting a skate park and adjoining educational facility built and some of the obstacles they face along the way. The story is told well, and the cinematography is spectacular all the way through. There are some truly striking images of the people and land that will stay with you, such as when a boy skates off of what looks like an abandoned, decrepit army tank (probably left there in the eighties by the Soviets — charming, huh?), and some gorgeous shots of folks boarding around some ancient Afghan ruins on their boards, as gun-wielding guards smile at their exploits.

I’m including another video called “To Live and Skate Kabul,” a short film about some of the kids that the organization helps.

And one more, for good measure 🙂

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