Art imitates life in Crystal Moselle’s latest film and first scripted feature “Skate Kitchen.”
Finding inspiration from everyday encounters in New York is the basis for her approach to filmmaking, be it documentary or feature. The 38-year-old director infamously spotted the eventual subjects of her 2015 documentary “The Wolfpack” on the street in the East Village. “I literally chased this group of kids down the street and made a film; it’s something that just goes off and I tune in and go after it,” says Moselle from a plush couch inside coworking space The Assemblage.
This time around, she found her subjects in a similarly serendipitous on-the-go manner — on public transit.
“I met the girls on the subway about two and a half years ago. The girls had skateboards, which you don’t see very often, so I was like, ‘Let’s do some sort of project together,'” she says of meeting the female skate crew. Moselle originally thought she’d make a feature documentary about the group, who run the popular Instagram account @theskatekitchen. But when Miu Miu tapped her for their Women’s Tales short film series, Moselle created a fictionalized world for the girls to play versions of themselves. During the Sundance Screenwriters Lab in early 2017, she was encouraged to ditch the feature documentary and develop the short into a full-length scripted feature, which premiered at this year’s festival.
While the film features the crew’s core members, most in their late teens, Moselle and her screenwriting partner wrote the script with Rachelle Vinberg as the lead character, based on Vinberg’s entry into the crew. “Rachelle was kind of the fish out of water that lived in Long Island and would come to the city to hang out and skateboard. I think it’s an interesting story: somebody coming into a world they don’t know,” Moselle says. The film’s other lead — and the only professional actor, not playing a version of himself — is Jaden Smith. Like with Moselle’s other subjects, his involvement was just sort of happenstance.
“Jaden had hit up Rachelle on Instagram and he was like, ‘Oh, I heard you’re a pretty f–king sick skater, when we’re in the same city we should skate,'” Moselle recalls. “So when we were coming up with the story, we were sitting there going like ‘OK, who’s going to come in and actually be a part of this, we need a love interest.’ So I was like, ‘Maybe we should bring in some actors, are there any actors who skateboard?’ And she was like, ‘Duh, Jaden Smith. He hit me up.’ So I got a meeting with him to talk with him about doing the film, and he was into it right away. He was like, ‘I’m in.'”
Similar to the documentary approach, Moselle, who grew up in Southern California and moved to New York at 18 to study at the School of Visual Arts, immersed herself in the downtown New York skate scene while developing the film. While the demographic at skate parks has historically skewed male, Moselle notes that the presence and supportive environment of the Skate Kitchen crew has paved an entry for other would-be female skateboarders. Brands tapping into the influence of youthful downtown cool have taken note; Vinberg was part of a shoe launch for Adidas Skateboarding earlier this summer.
“You never see girls skateboard. I mean, you do now, because of them. I firmly believe that they’re the reason why there are so many [female] skateboarders. They’re right on the cusp of the zeitgeist with what’s happening in the world right now with women,” says Moselle. “We showed the film in Russia — the theater was so packed, everybody knows who they were. They really started a whole movement with women skateboarding.”
Even Moselle picked up a few tricks. “I can skateboard a little bit, but I’m too old, it’s too dangerous,” she says. “I don’t feel like breaking anything right now.”