‘This Ain’t California’ – Skateboarding In The German Democratic Republic

Caught this documentary / feature – and subsequent Q&A with director, Martin Persiel – across the weekend as part the Audi Festival Of German Films, and proper glad I did. Persiel has created what’s set to be a cult film in years to come, based on an isolated crew of East German teens and their unique experience in the skateboarding sub-culture in the German Democratic Republic.

This Ain’t California in it’s most basic form could be classified as a European skate film, though doubtful anyone will take the lazy comparison of its American counterparts.

Persiel tells a less celebrated but far more intriguing story of oppressed teenagers seeking an outlet for their own evolution, and frustrated existence within the sheltered GDR. There’s no glorified ending with sponsorship dollars or international recognition, with the collapse of the Berlin wall and gradual dissolution of their group offering an even more memorable ending.

The main figure here is Denis ‘Panik’ Paraceck – ringleader of the skate crew, and who’s death was the catalyst for the film to be made. None had had contact with him for well over a decade, losing track with Panik during his first spell in prison, where he remained as the rest of Germany embraced reunificaton.

The narration from his oldest friends are balanced out with interviews and stories from East and West Germans who grew up skating alongside him at the time, recounting stories that are illustrated through reenactments, personal photos and some rare amateur footage shot within the GDR.

This archive discovery is worth a special mention, especially as it was a deciding factor in the film being made.  GDR archive is a rare commodity as it is, due to the scarceness of resources at the time. In the development stages of This Ain’t California, suitcases of 8mm were turned up from a contact that had shot skaters at the time, and despite hesitations of allowing a West German such as Martin Persiel access to them, due to a fear of GDR being misrepresented once again, this archive footage goldmine had an incredible impact on the film.

There’s been a bit written about the legitimacy of the main character Panik, suggested he’s the culmination of a few stories and people and that the use of actors for re-enactments has gone too far, negating the film as a cultural documentary. Having sat through a Q&A with Persiel in which, among other things, he went deeper into Panik’s later years, I believe that Denis Paraceck was the person portrayed and re-enacted through the film. As to the second question, enough of the footage is a necessity in recounting events, and an era, for it to be considered a quality documentary.

Documentaries will always tell one side of the story, and Persiel has coined the term ‘poetic documentary‘ with his offering. Purists of the genre write this off, but as an archive digger I definitely respect what’s going on. To find the cars, the boards, the locations and the way in which to piece it together as archive footage alongside still imagery and animation is a feat in itself.

Before we drop in the trailers and a write-up from the production house themselves, we need to recommend getting down to see this when it’s in your town. It’s not just for skaters, but a worthy watch for anyone. Head here for additional screenings around the country and for more info, check out the Facebook page here or the official website at http://www.thisaintcalifornia.de/en


via Audi Festival Of German Films
This sure ain’t California in terms of geography but the emotional landscape of this documentary about teenage rebellion and skateboard riding in East Germany of the 1970s and 1980s most certainly is California. Combining priceless propaganda footage and amazing black-and-white home video footage from the era, documentary maker Martin Persiel creates a vivid portrait of Dennis, Dirk and Nico, childhood friends living in dreary New Olvenstedt who were drawn together by a shared love of that most American of leisure pursuits. Following his subjects to 2011, Persiel deftly weaves skateboard nostalgia into the story of their experiences as teen rebels in a totalitarian state and the profound change that came over their lives following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. You don’t need to be a fully-fledged skaterpunk or even a fan of ‘sidewalk surfing’ to enjoy this high spirited and poignant tribute to the pursuit of happiness on four small wheels and a short wooden plank.