Given that recent Hot Docs Best International Feature winners have included films about the Warsaw Ghetto (2010), the legacy of the Lebanese Civil War (2009), and a brain surgeon (2008), it was something of a surprise to see the 2011 award go to Tristan Patterson’s profile of semi-pro SoCal skate punk Josh “Skreech” Sandoval. While one member of Skreech’s crew professes to be “really big into David Hume,” Skreech himself is the personification of drug-hazed hedonism, encapsulated in a Hasselhoff-esque encounter with a cheeseburger, and in observations like “We’re here because there’s a bunch of empty pools… and a bunch of fucked-up houses.” He’s a compellingly decadent subject, to be sure, though hardly the sort that typically commands the adulation of film festival juries.
But just as those increasingly numerous empty pools and foreclosed homes represent more than handy impromptu skate parks, Skreech’s lack of material ambition, consciously or otherwise, represents a rejection of established societal values. Though Dragonslayer stops short of glorifying Skreech’s aimlessness (particularly as it relates to the 23-year-old’s seldom-seen infant son), Patterson positions Skreech’s endless summers of slacking and substance abuse as both the by-product and a repudiation of the sort of mindset that precipitated America’s economic collapse. We suspect that it was these timely undertones, rather than the gnarlyness of Skreech’s roll-in reverts, that resonated most strongly with the Hot Docs panel. That said, if all you’re looking for is an uncommonly lyrical and frequently gorgeous extended skate video, Dragonslayer will certainly satisfy.