This Ain’t California

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“This Ain’t California” redefines the documentary genre.

In 90 minutes, we see the GDR more sharply, more clearly: the skater subculture shows that not all was grey-on-grey and drab clouds of Trabant fumes. This Wildfremd production (Ronald Vietz & Michael Schöbel) by director Martin Persiel takes original clips of the “wheel-board-riders” – straight out of the East German scene in the 80s – and mixes it with animations and reencounters with the protagonists today. It is not just a well thought out story on its own – this film also raises the aesthetic bar.

“Skating as freedom” is one of the leitmotifs of this film. Skating “without pressure to be better than someone else,” as one of the main characters puts it, became the goal in hindsight, or, said downright harshly, “the desire for freedom turned lifestyle”. Unbelievable, if not for the simple fact that this Californian fun could find its expression in the GDR.

“The GDR was not supposed to be that way – the streets were not for playing around,” we hear at one point in the film – just as the “wheel-boards” roll across Alexanderplatz in footage from the 80s: hotpants, sex and music right beside government-organized processions. The story is authentic right down to the production and creative teams, which are made up of East and West German skaters.

“Wessi” director Marten Persiel works along with “Ossis” in the production, revisiting their lives and their own experiences without romanticizing any of it. The arc of the film connects past and present to show how the skaters’ lives (shaped by a repressive system) have their own strength. “This Ain’t California” has a light-hearted yet powerful soundtrack as limitless as the vitality of its protagonists. Yet it is not a light-hearted film at all. It is a metaphor with its beginnings in the GDR but does not end with the fall of the wall.

These true professionals – in the most positive sense of the word – have finally come together to create this wonderful film for the cinema after years of working in diverse genres.

The pictorial language, the editing, the animations: while watching the film one recognizes the expertise behind it and, luckily for the audience, an unquenchable passion for the medium. Life in the GDR as it has never been seen: a film that shows a unique generation from the GDR in the 80s which has never before been shown in a film. It is free from the classic GDR clichés, which are often adopted by the occidental point of view.

A film in which the East takes a look at the West, right up to the year 2011 – always with one theme clearly in focus: friendship.

Certificate: tba     Distributor: Luxin

Dir. Marten Persiel, Germany, 2012, 90 mins, German

Cast: David Nathan, Anneke Schwabe, Bill Clinton

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