Bones Brigade: Sundance Film Review

Bones Brigade
Grant Britain
Peralta’s doc is a generous, tasty slice of skateboarding history.

The director behind the lucrative "Dogtown and Z Boys" revisits skateboarding to similar success.

Filmmaker Stacy Peralta has made a name by directing surprisingly successful sports documentaries Dogtown and Z Boys and Riding Giants -- both netted over $1 million in theatrical boxoffice for Sony Pictures Classics. Structured similarly to Dogtown and consisting primarily of archival footage and interviews with some of skateboarding’s greats, Bones Brigade’s ability to three-peat will largely depend on whether the rich mine of audience interest in skateboarding has yet been exhausted -- not likely, given the popularity of the sport.

In Bones Brigade, Peralta picks up some years after Dogtown left off: After achieving championship status and earning thousands of dollars as a pro with the Gordon & Smith team, Peralta quit competing and went into business with equipment designer George Powell to form renowned skateboard company Powell Peralta in 1978. While Powell took charge of the design and manufacturing side of the business, Peralta began strategizing a marketing campaign and recruiting a promotional team to represent the company.

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Rather than cherry-pick pros from other crews like his competitors did, Peralta began building his group from the ground up, recruiting unknown amateurs with promising talent. New additions included some of the biggest names in the second wave of pro skateboarding: Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Rodney Mullen and Lance Mountain among them. Some of these 11- to 15-year-olds were barely placing in amateur contests, but Peralta recognized their talent and nurtured the kids -- some with troubled home lives -- by providing focused coaching and encouraging competition between the team members.

For the skaters, getting selected for the team was a transformative experience, freeing them to develop some of the sport’s most famous and widely imitated maneuvers. Hawk perfected more than 80 vertical moves, Mullen became the world’s foremost freestyle champion, Caballero invented a 360-degree aerial dubbed the Caballerial, and Mountain perfected street boarding, which became the popular model for the sport. “I knew that most skaters weren't as talented as the Powell team, most of them [were] like me,” Mountain reflects. “I was a real skateboarder, not a gifted skateboarder.”

With Powell’s product line behind them, Peralta worked with designer Craig Stecyk – who dubbed the Powell Peralta team the “Bones Brigade” – to develop a signature marketing campaign that put the company far ahead of the competition. With the Bones Brigade team members consistently winning competitions and distinctive, irreverent product promotion, Powell Peralta became one of the leading skateboard companies of the late 80s.

Their outfit also introduced the very first skateboarding videos to boost sales, with Peralta directing. Beginning with The Bones Brigade Video Show, which sold 300,000 units – an unheard-of marketing coup at the time -- and culminating with the classic The Search for Animal Chin. The videos transformed skate culture, taking it from the bowls and ramps of competitive skateboarding to the streets, where recreational boarding became hugely popular until the industry took another nosedive in the 90s.

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By then, the Bones Brigade members had become contemporary sports heroes, going on to careers of their own – several still skate, while others have started their own companies. “I loved seeing these guys succeed,” says Peralta. “I had this affinity for coaching them. It wasn't about winning, it was about showing up and doing your best.”

Peralta brings together the oral and visual histories of the Bones Brigade in extensive interviews with former team members, as well as business partners Powell and Stecyk. Still photos, home movies and company promos shot on VHS and Super-8 reveal the skaters learning their craft before fame caught up with them and intimately document an unprecedented period when skateboarding grew to represent the stylish, rebellious side of youth culture. Editor Josh Altman skillfully weaves together this footage with the in-depth interviews, artfully connecting the athletes’ stories with the history of the sport.

Deep, rich and resonant, Bones Brigade will provide fans with an enticing portal to revisit skateboarding’s glory days and introduce the era to a whole new generation of enthusiasts. As much a personal history as it is a cultural document, Peralta’s film is a natural extension of the Bones Brigade promotional videos, marking another memorable milestone in his unparalleled documentation of skate culture.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, Documentary Premieres

Production company: Union Avenue Productions and Non-Fiction Unlimited

Director: Stacy Peralta

Producers: Stacy Peralta, John Oliver, Nadine Brown

Executive producers: James Truitt, Albert Alan

Director of photography: Patrick Darrin

Production Designer: Beth Goodnight

Editor: Josh Altman

Sales: The Film Sales Company

No rating, 90 minutes