Skateistan: Gender and Skateboarding

Skateistan offers a glimmer of hope for Afghanistan’s future.

SKATEISTAN: TO LIVE AND SKATE KABUL from Diesel New Voices on Vimeo.

The short documentary, To Live and Skate in Kabul, is winner of the Sundance award. Grain Media is an award-winning London-based collective of creative minds, specializing in TV, film and web-video production.

When Orlando von Einsiedel, co-founder of Grain Media, first heard about Skateistan from a friend doing aid work in Kabul, he says his ears immediately pricked up. A former pro-snowboarder who for the last few years has shot documentaries about social issues in places of conflict, the idea of shooting a skateboarding documentary in Afghanistan seemed right up his alley, since Grain Media initially began working in action sports. It wasn’t just the skateboarding aspect that struck Orlando; he really wanted to tell a story of hope from a country only ever in the news for what he felt were all the wrong reasons.

While finding funding for documentaries is always challenging, it just so happened that not long after hearing about Skateistan, Orlando saw a brief put out by the clothing company, Diesel, looking for short films by young filmmakers about ‘youth micro cultures’ around the globe. He put in a pitch about a short documentary on the kids of Skateistan and won a very small pot of money. The cash just about covered the flights, film stock and insurance required for Orlando’s and his crews’ two week visit.

Orlando gives much credit to both Franklin Dow (the film’s cinematographer) and Peta Ridley (the film’s editor). He says that Frank made everything look stunning and Peta edited the footage in a way that really captured the feeling for what it’s like on Kabul’s streets. Orlando also credits the passion the team had for the project, which made it possible to film all those sunrises in sub-zero temperatures and spend long hours moving around the city to shoot the best scenes. That all said, he adds that Kabul is quite an amazing city and you only really have to point the camera in any direction to capture something powerful.

On the gender division, he says that it’s not an understatement to say that it’s pretty stark. In a country where women over a certain age and virtually all women outside of Kabul still wear a full burka in public, the idea of a woman doing sports would have been unthinkable. While there are obviously lots of countries in the world where women get a raw deal with regards to gender equality, in Afghanistan it really feels there is a long way to go before women are on an even keel with men. Orlando explains that, while many within and outside of Afghanistan hoped things would drastically change when the Taliban were overthrown, this has not been the case.

Skateistan offers a glimmer of hope for the country’s future; Orlando explains that a lot of the kids they spent time with were enlightened pupils with slightly more liberal ideas on gender, adding that no one is born sexist and it is the social environment one grows up in that more or less decides what your ideas about gender equality will be. If the children of Skateistan are beginning to shrug off what appears to be very rigid and deep rooted gender inequalities, then Orlando thinks there is hope that the rest of Afghanistan can do the same if the country ever gets a chance at real peace and development.

One of the things that really struck him about all of the kids they filmed was just how normal they were. He notes that he really doesn’t think he would have ended up so well-adjusted if had he been through some of the unimaginable things the children of Kabul have lived through and continue to live through.

If there is one thing he took away from his time in Afghanistan, it was hanging out with a bunch of inspiring kids whose hope is still very much alive. He explains that he spent two weeks being surrounded by children who had so much hope and ambition for their country. Orlando points out that they are acutely aware of how far behind their country has been left by the rest of the world in the development stakes, and they really just want to put the war behind them and help rebuild Afghanistan. In the UK and elsewhere around the world, he adds, all people really see from Afghanistan are images of war and unhappiness–but he hope that his team’s latest film goes some way towards showing that there is still some hope very much alive there.

For more information on Skateistan visit: http://us.skateistan.org

Rahilla Zafar is a Contributing Writer to Altmuslimah.

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