VIFF 2011: DRAGONSLAYER Review

VIFF 2011: DRAGONSLAYER Review
As if to demonstrate just how gnarly of a documentary Dragonslayer is, Tristan Patterson opens his film with Josh "Skreech" Sandoval exposing a huge growth-like lump on his hip as an off screen companion vacantly comments, "That's not normal." Presumably a skateboard injury, it is definitely not normal. But neither is Dragonslayer. An award winner at SXSW and Hot Docs, Patterson's unconventional a-year-in-the-life portrait of a skate punk extraordinaire openly embraces the most unsavory aspects of youth in rebellion with no intention of elevating or demonizing.

Patterson chronicles Skreek's shaky return to skating after a bout of depression and ditching his sponsors. He spends his time haunting the streets of Orange County looking for abandon pools, getting stoned, drunk or some combination of the two, and trying to find a place to crash. Overflowing with indifference and stasis, Skreech is nonetheless feeling the pressures of responsibility on his freewheeling, skateboarding, partying narcissism. With a new baby, a meaningful relationship (not with the mother of his child, mind you) and his own ambitions, he is forced to, at the very least, consider his future despite the ethos of his culture.

Dragonslayer is an unblinking video journal of Skreech's minor failures and personal successes, where he occasionally crashes but never burns. A trip to a European competition alludes to the fact that he may have lost his skating edge. A drinking binge tests the patience of his ultra-understanding girlfriend. And every attempt to escape Orange County results in circling back to his home turf. The film is laid out in a series of 11 chapters, somewhat symbolically starting with a perfect ten and working down to an absolute zero. And depending on our perspective, Skreech is either moving forward or backward on his life path. Although at "10" he embodies ultimate freedom from societies constrains, by chapter "0" he has found a margin of stability that some might consider selling out.

I was glad that the documentary didn't go for a clich├ęd ending of redemption. The final chapter, titled "The Ideal Life," is anything but. It does, however, show Skreech gaining a foothold on the ground he is standing on. Director Tristan Patterson describes being drawn to Skreech by the duality that exists in his lost persona and his skilled skating. Utilizing a handheld video camera, Patterson literally followed Skreech for more than a year--breaking into vacated houses, smoking weed at every turn, and recording all the intimate and embarrassing moments. But ultimately it is just a snapshot of this young man's life, full of the contradiction of being young, idealistic and confused.

If there is a dragon in Dragonslayer, it is the one living inside Skreech and the fight seems to be keeping the dragon alive. The notion of disaffected youth of today (or of yesterday or tomorrow) is a hackneyed perspective gleaned from the surface. Patterson spies beyond judgment and finds that the surface is very real, but there is far more to be found underneath.  

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