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Rare skateboarding exhibit part of 'Skateistan' movie showing on Thursday

Oct. 10, 2012 @ 03:54 PM

HUNTINGTON — A one-of-a-kind skateboarding exhibit will accompany the skateboarding movie, “Skateistan: Four Wheels and a Board in Kabul,” which kicks off the Marshall Artists Series Fall International Film Festival.
The only area screening of the award-winning documentary is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11 at the historic Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center in downtown Huntington.
Cost is $10 to see the film which won the prestigious Cinema for Peace award for “Most Valuable Documentary” and which  follows Oliver Percovich and Sharna Nolan’s efforts to start a skatepark/ Afghanistan’s first co-educational skateboard school in the center of war-torn Kabul.

After the film Huntington native and skateboard industry icon, Bryan Ridgeway, Skateistan’s Global Skateboarding Advisor and Skateistan volunteer, Niki Williams, who is also on the Skateistan Board of Directors, will answer questions and talk about the ground-breaking skatepark and school in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Ridgeway, who has helped ride, coach, share and shape skateboarding history for the past few decades, said he’s borrowed some of the incredible collection of legendary skateboarding historian Dale Smith to show a bit of skateboarding history with the film.

 “Dale has a company called Skate Designs and he’s a legendary guy in the industry as far as a historian and I would say he is the No. 1 collector,” Ridgeway said. “He has all the eras covered and he knows his history. He’s enabled me to get artifacts from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. The Huntington Museum of Art is donating five cases so we’re going to bring in some of the pristine items from those eras.”

 Ridgeway said he’s humbled and excited to be able to share the powerful film. It traces the work of Australian Oliver Percovich and Sharna Nolan, who first went to Afghanistan in 2007 and against all odds and in a war-torn country where children make up more than half the population, started Skateistan, Afghanistan’s first co-educational skateboard school.

The film explores how they overcame customs to help girls be able to not only skateboard but to go to school, and where the rich and poor, boy and girl, skate and learn in a backdrop of constant violence in Afghanistan where last week, the death toll of American soldiers climbed to more than 2,000.

In September, that violence spilled for the second time into the Skateistan community as four teens including two Afghan teachers died in a suicide bombing. Four more former female students died in December in a similar attack.

“I just have shivers thinking about it,” Ridgeway said of sharing the film after several of the kids who are in the film have been killed. “I think the timing of this shows that it is still history in the making and it has not been concluded. We will expand on what is happening now since the film as the project is ongoing. They’ll have a chance to see the kids and see some of what the future could hold for the people of Afghanistan and what they’re facing and some of the obstacles. You don’t see any of this on the news. You don’t see nothing about the real lives of people in that country. You mostly see numbers and mostly just the numbers of our military.”

Angela Jones, marketing coordinator for the Artists Series and a film fest organizer, said “Skateistan” is a perfect and powerful way to kick off the Film Fest, which runs Oct. 12-17, featuring the Academy Award-winning Iranian film, “A Separation,” as well as such award-winning indie film as “The Kid With the Bike” (Belgium),  “Applause” (Denmark),  “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (USA), “Footnote” (Israel) and “Headhunters” (Norway).

“We’re honored to be able to screen the film which has played some film festivals but has never been shown like this as we are doing a school show, too,” Jones said. “I think it is timely and it is so totally relevant to see the real world. It brings home war and how it impacts their lives and how they have to fight through a war zone to just get to a place where they can hang out and learn.”

Jones said they have the entire Enslow Middle School coming to see the film and are trying to urge more students to come and see the powerful and unique educational film.

Ridgeway, who was already involved in such teaching projects as Create-A-Skate (an in-school-skateboard-building program), said the film educates on many levels.

 “I think students and teachers will see so many different aspects and how it all relates to the classroom,” Ridgeway said. “What is a country like when it is starting over or being held back. They are not on our calendar, and they’re a completely different ball game there. Once people see the film there are so many things that are applicable because this is real time stuff that I think they can relate to because skateboarding is part of our pop culture. A core thing involved with it is the actual movement and it’s shown how that’s being used to improve the lives of the kids over there. I think people here might look at skateboarding differently that it’s not just a bunch of hoodlums trying to go against the grain, it gives hope and positive flows for people in the future.”

Ridgeway, who helped bring Skateistan founder Oliver Percovich to the world’s largest industry skateboarding conference in California this past May, said he’s excited to fly in with Skateistan board member and former volunteer Niki Williams, who was on the ground with Skateistan from December 2010 to about June 2011.

Williams is an indie film producer who has also worked as a production assistant on such films as “Nacho Libre” and “Leminy Snickets.” She said living and working as a woman in the heart of Kabul to help young girls who had never seen a skateboard skate and who had never been to school go to class was a surreal miracle that impacts her life daily.

“It really is a miracle,” Williams said of Skateistan. “It is kind of like they have had an apocalypse, and when you have been cut down for so long everyone is looking for that bright flower growing in the midst of death, any little thing. I think the parents and elders saw a group of kids laughing and thought ‘well maybe we are wrong. Maybe we should let them laugh and play.’”

Williams, who volunteered with her former boyfriend who is in the skateboarding industry, said unlike some non-profit agencies in third world countries, Skateistan volunteers lived in a guesthouse at a family dwelling impacted when water and electricity sporadically ran out.
“Most non profits have butlers and maids and cooks and make it like where you are from, but Skateistan, since we were dealing with the children, decided to not make it like that to say that we are all one,” Williams said. “Because of that we had a better understanding of what the kids were going through if they were a little hungry one day and a little stinky one day. We were stinky, too. That totally changes the conversation when you know the challenges they face and what life is like.”

Although as an African-American woman, she had to daily navigate an exhausting maze of cultural, religious and social issues in Afghanistan, when she came back to the United States, she could not just leave the children behind and move on to her next project.

“When someone lets you into their family and lets you become a part of who they are that is everything,” Williams said.  “It is also very hard, and ask any teacher, that when you give of yourself to a child to just then turn around and say good bye. There is a big sisterhood with the girls who are there. The number of challenges they face you couldn’t imagine, so you become a part of wanting them to succeed.”

Go online at www.marshallartistsseries.org for more info and check out a full schedule for the Fall International Film Festival in Thursday’s Weekend section of The Herald-Dispatch.