This Ain't California: Film Review

This Ain't California - H 2012
Although it manipulates the facts, this fast-paced festival hit vividly recounts its compelling story.

Marten Persiel's "hybrid documentary" depicts the underground skateboarding culture that flourished in East Germany in the 1980s.

Marten Persiel’s “hybrid documentary” tells the story of Denis “Panik” Paraceck, who personified the rebellious culture of underground skateboarding that flourished in East Germany in the 1980s. This free-spirited young man, seen performing his strenuously athletic stunts in vintage Super 8 and 16mm footage, was later killed fighting in Afghanistan.

Well, not really. As was eventually revealed after the film won several awards on the festival circuit, including the Dialogue en Perspective prize at Berlin, the film uses actors and fabricated footage to depict the world of the skateboarders, or “Rollbrettfahrer” as they were known. As for the ill-fated Panik? Well, if he did exist, there’s no real footage of him, since what’s on display here features a male model/pro skater in the role.

It seems silly for the filmmaker to have resorted to such tactics, since the truth was eventually going to get out and the vibrant subject matter hardly seems worthy of such manipulation. Examining the ways in which the underground skateboarding scene — as well as the rise of such related cultural movements as punk rock and hip-hop — contributed to the social and political forces that eventually brought down the Berlin Wall, This Ain’t California bursts with a rebellious energy all its own.

Featuring modern-day “interviews” with Panik’s contemporaries who have gathered in middle-age to reminisce about their former comrade, the fast-paced film features a jumble of modern and archival footage and trippy animation to recall the heady days in which their younger selves cavorted around Berlin’s endless concrete structures as their own distinctive form of youthful protest. The punk-rock flavored soundtrack adds to the anarchic atmosphere depicted.

Opens: Friday, April 12
Production: Wildfremd Production
Cast: Kai Hillebrandt, David Nathan, Tina Bartel, Anneke Schwabe
Director: Marten Persiel
Screenwriters: Marten Persiel, Ira Wedel
Producers: Ronald Vietz, Michael Schoebel
Director of photography: Felix Leiberg
Editors: Maxine Godicke, Toni Froschhammer, Bobby Good
Composer: Lars Damm
Not rated, 90 min.