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Jan 20, 2020

Film Review: “Learning To Skateboard In A Warzone” – So much more than “Cool”

This Oscar and BAFTA nominated film tells the story of a group of girls at Skateistan in Kabul, as they progress at the skatepark, but more importantly with their studying in the classroom.

WRITTEN BY

Sean Verity

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When I first heard of Skateistan it was in the midst of one of The Outdoor Journal’s regular editorial calls. A member of the team, David Braun, had come across the initiative and raised it as something that we should cover.

I remember the moment well, I can remember getting excited, “That is so cool, Davey. Go for it.”. Davey did go for it and subsequently published 3 articles, before welcoming a member of the Skateistan team on The Outdoor Journal podcast.

Today, I searched for “Skateistan” in my e-mails and found the first mention from June of 2019 when I sent a message to the charity’s Communications Manager, Jessica Faulkner. The e-mail included the following sentence…

“I love what you’re doing. It connects with people (as it did with myself), but importantly, it also carries a hugely important purpose.”

Reading between the lines, this sentence show’s that I was more excited about the “what”, not the “why”, even if I had acknowledged the importance. I had heard that Tony Hawk and his foundation, the Tony Hawk Foundation, was a major donor to the organisation. Tony himself donates time and sits on their advisory board. I had seen the pictures, of young kids, with their oversized helmets grasping their skateboards. It was cool… but it never really resonated with me how much of a difference this program was making even if I did offer a nod to the importance of Skateistan’s purpose.

Of course, the initiative is cool, but it pales in comparison to its importance. Something that became clear whilst watching Learning To Skateboard In A Warzone (if you’re a girl).

One moment from “Learning To Skateboard In A Warzone” really prompts the viewer to consider the environment in which Skateistan operates. The girls are sat in class and the teacher asks “What is courage?” “Courage is when someone goes to school and studies, and when we read the Quran and other books” replies one of the students. A simple, yet powerfully informative exchange. For under the circumstances, a girl going to school here in Kabul, is courageous.

The students are subsequently asked, “What happens to our rights when we don’t have courage?” “They take them, they take away our rights and never give them back” suggests the teacher,  “Does anyone have trouble understanding this?” Just one of the students failed to raise their hand. The teacher suspects that the student does understand, but is lacking the courage to say so. She’s asked to stand up and try to explain. With the hushed whispers of her classmates prompting her to answer “reading the Quran”, the girl ignores their advice – “by going to school” she replies with an embarrassed squirm.

This review isn’t a history lesson, nor an analysis of the current political and cultural climate in Afghanistan. This review will not chastise something that I cannot pretend to understand fully, nor something that I am not informed enough to pass judgment. However, I can tell you that the film is heartwarming and uplifting. The smiles are genuine, and every achievement, regardless of how small is a joy to see.

The girls are positively awkward. Akin to a child who’s delighted to be the centre of attention, but not entirely comfortable having that same attention.

Yes, Skateistan is cool, but it’s also so much more than that – It’s powerful. This film’s greatest success is the focus on Skateistan’s importance, not just its appeal.

Award-winning NGO Skateistan is the focus of the documentary film, which was shot in Kabul, Afghanistan and produced by Grain Media for A&E Indie Films. Alongside the Academy Award® nomination, the film has also been nominated for a BAFTA and won Best Documentary Short at the Tribeca Film Festival. 


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