by Samantha Hill
August 16th, 2012

Asking a film fanatic what her favorite film is should really be a banned question. Rooftop’s 2012 Summer Series offered a wide array of cinematic treats these past several months, and being able to enjoy them all is one of the perks of working as a Rooftop intern. When asked to narrow it down, This Ain’t California, Marten Persiel’s coming of age documentary about three skaters growing up and challenging the political statuo quo in East Germany, rose to the top of my list.

Persiel traces the story of three skaters from boyhood to the present day as thirtysomethings when they reunite to pay tribute to their close friend, charismatic skate legend  Denis aka Panik, who died as a soldier in Afghanistan years after losing touch with his former skate pals.

The film deftly interweaves Super 8 footage of the young skaters horsing around and honing their sport with their friends’ reunion in the present day.  As they reminisce about the good times, we see how their creativity, angst, family tensions, and rebellion against political suppression was funneled into skating and forged ironclad bonds of friendship that have long outlasted the Berlin Wall.

This Ain’t California is a joyous yet emotional celebration of the fortitude of the human spirit and the escape and solace we find in expression and in others. Incisively capturing the intense highs and lows of being young against the backdrop of an tightly controlled and highly politicized society, I would recommend it to anyone who still remembers the hope and uncertainty of their youth.  Oh, and the eighties fashion and rock music aren’t bad either.

Honorable mentions: Detropia, The Imposter


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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.


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