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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 10.10.12] Germany documentary

Skateboarding has always been seen as a part of the counterculture, a sport that's as much about showing off as it is about breaking the rules. In California, skate culture grew in backyard pools but in East Germany, where pools, where city centers feature endless stretches of concrete, the sport developed with a slightly different twist. Rather than half-pikes, East German skateboarders developed a style that was as much more centered on tricks and far less on acrobatics (though they still made an appearance).

This Ain't California doesn't simply capture the development of skate culture in East Germany and one of the central figures of the movement, it also captures the lust for life and the energy that was beginning to permeate through the country prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Skateboarding was seen by the government as both an opportunity for the sports dominant country to gain a stronghold on yet another sport and also a constant nagging reminder on western culture staking a foothold on a country that openly dismissed anything foreign.

At the centre of it all was one man: Panik. A talented child who was selected early to enter an intense swim training program, he was destined for Olympics but the young boy had other ideas and at his first opportunity, he stopped swimming, left home and took up skateboarding full time. He was both a wild man and an intensely quiet individual, one who would leave a permanent mark on skate culture not just in Germany.

Marten Persiel's documentary follows Panik from his youth (when he was known as Kai Hillebrand) to the days after his arrival in Berlin and his eventual withdrawal from the culture. With access to years of archival footage, we see not only the development of an immensely talented skater but also the development of the sport and it's growth as both, eventually becoming an integral part of the counterculture. The fact that Persial has access to the footage is fantastic and would be worthwhile as simply the story of one boy's personal struggle but it's even more effective as a document of the rise of western influence on East Germany and as a document of the changing mentality of an entire nation.

Loaded with footage and interviews from individuals who knew Panik and were active at the time, This Ain't California is a testament not only to youth and changing culture but to an entire nation on the bring of change. It's a hugely entertaining bit of history that anyone, young and old, can latch onto.

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