Interview SCENECS International Filmfestival

Skateboarding connects the South African youth in ‘Wheels of Change’

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Co-producer and co-founder Jaime Prins was confronted with poverty and insecurity when he visited South-Africa. Many kids are just hanging around and they end up doing drugs or joining a gang. Because Jaime and Johan have been skateboarding their entire life, they decided to do something about this distressing situation and they started the social organization Get Your Shit Together. They collected about a hundred skateboards and gave them away in South Africa. Together with an enthusiastic group of friends they created the documentary Wheels of Change. in this movie, the South African youth is telling their story about how they use skateboarding as a social tool for change.

The importance of a community

Why Get Your Shit Together decided to go for skateboarding in South Africa? This has multiple reasons according to Jaime. First of all, he’s been skateboarding his entire life and he knows how valuable it is to be part of a community that exists of respect, creativity, freedom and fun. In a community like this, you are surrounded by friends who all have the same motives. This is something that is unimaginable for many South African kids. Secondly, he noticed during his first visit in South Africa, that there are many influences of the western world which also means that there are facilities to skate. The crazy thing is that doing sports is unaffordable for the majority of the people.

Because skateboarding should be accessible for everybody, GYST started approaching local organizations who also wanted to make a difference with skateboarding. “I noticed that these organizations shared us valuable insights and advices. Everybody was very positive in collaborating. They wanted to shape their passion for skateboarding in any way possible”, says Jaime Prins.

A friend of ours, who lived in South Africa, connected us with a friend of him who also used to ride. He introduced us to all local organizations where we eventually collaborated with. It was bizarre that it was so comfortable to prepare our project with people that lived 10.000 kilometers away, without knowing them at that time. We trusted each other, simply because we shared the same passion. We put a lot of preparation for Port Elisabeth, where we organized a skateboard contest, bringing together two communities: The existing skateboard-community and a group of kids that lived in a shelter in the middle of a township. The kids got to skate for the first time and were encouraged and inspired by the experienced skateboarders. “It was a special day for those kids in a lot of ways, also because they don’t leave their township that often”. We are so glad that this was a success.

The local skateboarders all knew each other by name, even if they were separated thousands of kilometers. In Cape Town, they knew skaters in Johannesburg, Port Elisabeth, Sithumba and the other way around. This was pretty special, because you can really see how connected the South African skateboard community already is.

Insecurity and poverty 

In Wheels of Change we see a lot of kids that embraced skateboarding into their lifestyle. We were not allowed to film all kids because of their safety. In Cape Town, GYST was in a shelter in the suburb Khayelitsha, one of the biggest townships in South Africa. Our partner from Skate-Aid immediately said that not everybody could be filmed, because the hiding place of these kids would be uncovered if the wrong persons would see the movie. Most of them were street kids that previously were captured to go into prostitution, deal drugs or do other criminal activities. Jaime:”we have a lot more footage that we didn’t use, just to make that these kids would stay safe“.

Wheels of change is divided in four chapters. Each chapter sketches a specific location that the team visited. We planned this trip like this so we could show the enormous contrast between rich and poor. When filming, the crew felt unsafe on a regular basis. When we were filming near the centre of Cape Town, a kid warned us that we could get ourselves killed or shot because we were in “their township”. This was confirmed soon enough because at that day of filming,  there was a big riot where police officers were attacked by the community and rocks were flying through the air. This happened right on the road, next to the skatepark where we were filming and skating with about 40 kids. The riot started because people who lived in that community wanted to protect themselves from corrupt cops. It was a real eye-opener that it was a normal thing for kids to witness a shooting or to get robbed. In Johannesburg one of the founders of the One Love Skate Expo also told us that you can easily get stabbed on the streets and he has personally witnessed this multiple times. For the European youth, this is unthinkable.

Get Your Shit Together

Jaime founded Get Your Shit Together a year ago, together with Johan. They started collecting used skateboards via Social Media, skate stores and via their own network. They even bought extra materials and there were multiple sponsors that supported their mission. Jaime and Johan gave their organization this steady name so it would be clear what their mission is: “doing something about the shit that is happening in South Africa“. With Wheels of Change, they want to increase awareness and gain more support for organizing bigger projects.

During their first project in South Africa, the team gave away 100 skateboards. They always did this in collaboration with local partners. That way, they would be sure that their donations would also have an effect on the longer term. Jaime:” When a kid walks over the streets, carrying a skateboard, he will get robbed and that is a waste of the investment. Our partners ensured that this wouldn’t happen.

Jaime states that there is a lot to do, not just in South Africa but in the whole of Africa. A new skateboard in South Africa costs about a 100 euro. This also affects the local skateboard industry because only a few kids are able to pay for that. Skateboarding should be accessible for everybody. Jaime:” We think that South African skateboarders have the potential to compete at world level. It is very important to introduce more kids to this sport. For them, it’s a chance to escape from their daily circumstances and just have fun and interact socially. Everybody needs some kind of relaxation. Besides that, the coaches act as role models for the kids, which increases the chance that they will get on the right path. “With skateboarding, the kids will develop a mindset that enables them to set goals and realize them: falling, standing up and keep trying until they make it, just like in real life“.

Authentic stories 

The Get Your Shit Together crew decided to have the kids and partner organizations tell the story in Wheels of Change. It was important that they told the story because they are the ones who are coping with these big problems in society on a daily basis. We wanted the viewer to experience it from their point of view.

Eventually, the filming took about 2,5 weeks and Ralph, our cameraman, spent three months editing the documentary. There was also a lot of work in planning the project, the sub-projects and contacting local organizations but in general this went quite smoothly. Only the shipment of the skateboards was frustrating: the South African border control is very strict in importing foreign goods. They do this to protect their own industries. We had to pay a lot of money for import duties, even though it concerned second hand goods that we brought for donation. Eventually, the pallet with skateboards arrived weeks later, exactly on the day that we arrived in South Africa as well.

In première at SCENECS

Last year, Jaime already visited the SCENECS International Filmfestival. Jaime tells:”Last summer, I was talking to Arya, CEO SCENECS, about our project and we really wanted to show why we are doing what we are doing. Filming a documentary seems to be the perfect way to increase awareness. I am really happy with the movie and really proud that Wheels of Change will have its premiere at SCENECS. For us, it is really important that we can show the results and show how important the support was that we got from our sponsors, friends and many other people. Besides that, being part of the filmfestival is the best way to get to know our learning moments and developments in filming.

Building on success

“After the premiere at SCENECS, we are also going to screen the movie in South Africa and in Austria. Austria is an important country for us because Matthias, one of our team members, lives there and gained a lot of support. 90% of the project was financed by ourselves and this was absolutely worth it because we have witnessed the positive effects on kids. We now want to go for bigger projects and for that we need more financial support. During the live Q&A at the SCENECS festival I will answer all questions about this”.

Ending the interview, Jaime wants to emphasize how special it is that there are so many facilities to skate in South Africa. As soon as kids also have the resources to go skateboarding, this is going to make a huge difference to the younger generations. The skateboarding community supports eachother and besides skateboarding, they also teach each other skills and life lessons that are essential in their daily lives.

Willy Bakker

Images: Ralph van Boeschoten(NL), Faaiek Croy (ZA)

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