Learning To Skateboard In A Warzone (If You're A Girl)


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Learning To Skateboard In A Warzone (If You're A Girl)
"The joy on the girls' faces, their increasing confidence in everything they do, is wonderful to see."

"What does courage mean?" the teacher asks.

A dozen small hands shoot up. The girls' answers quickly converge. "Going to school and learning," says one.

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It's only a handful of years since going to school and learning was forbidden outright for Afghani girls, despite the fact that, as one teacher points out, God himself says (in the Qur'an) that it is everyone's duty to pursue knowledge. Now that the Taliban have been driven back, at least for the meantime, the government says that everyone should go to school, but many children from disadvantaged families don't. Girls, in particular, are often kept at home all of the time. Asked what they did until recently, the girls here reflect on domestic chores, childminding or just sitting around. Now, everything is different for them. Now they go to Skateistan.

Run by an international nonprofit, Skateistan is an organisation committed to helping youngsters like them through education and skateboarding. If the latter seems trivial, think again. These are girls who have been kept at home. They haven't ridden bikes or climbed trees or rolled down hills as kids do elsewhere (though, as it turns out, quite a few of them have used slingshots and giggle awkwardly when told that breaking windows is bad). They have no physical confidence. What is courage? One girl explains how, for her, even standing on the board was frightening at first. By the end of this film, the girls are doing stunts. Their relationship with their bodies, their understanding of who they are and what they are capable of, has been transformed.

With a subject like this it would be impossible to make a dull film. The joy on the girls' faces, their increasing confidence in everything they do, is wonderful to see - and the toughness of teachers who preserved their own skills in defiance of the Taliban regime is pretty awesome too. Carol Dysinger has done more than just record their story, however. Her multi-layered film is full of small observations which fill in the gaps to create a powerful portrait of time, place and cultural experience. We see, for instance, the way the girls are searched as they come into school, something apparently so casual and routine that they barely notice it, yet it speaks to the teachers' awareness that any one of these kids could have a bomb strapped to her body, intended to kill them all. When a helicopter passes overhead, everybody looks up abruptly. They react to unexpected loud noises with a speed, an intensity that comes only from trauma.

"I've seen terrible things," a teacher says, hiding her own trauma behind a cheerful polka dot scarf.

This is a film about recovery, a film full of hope, yet one very much alert to ongoing dangers and to the possibility that the bad old days will come again. Dysinger finds the bitter truth in details, scattering them through the film so that we understand why hope and learning and skateboarding matter so much.

Reviewed on: 22 Jan 2020
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The story of young Afghan girls learning to read, write - and skateboard - in Kabul.

Director: Carol Dysinger

Year: 2019

Runtime: 39 minutes

Country: US


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