After hearing rumours about a burgeoning skate scene in Palestine, two skaters from London travelled to the West Bank armed only with a bag of skateboards and a camera, hoping to meet the pioneers of this growing new subculture. Their documentary Epicly Palestine'd: The Birth of Skateboarding in the West Bank tells the story of the people they met and the unique challenges they face living under a military occupation.
Why did you want to make this documentary?
Well actually when we started we weren’t even sure we were making a documentary. We knew we wanted to meet Palestinian skaters and donate some boards, and skate of course. So we took a camera to film tricks and a couple of interviews, but as soon as we arrived it became clear there was more of a story to tell.
What can skateboarding do for young people in a place like Palestine?
Like anywhere in the world, skateboarding can be a really positive thing to get into. Not only as an activity but also as a community. It’s inclusive, fun, it relieves stress and helps build confidence. Anyone can do it, irrespective of race, gender, age or class. All these things are extra beneficial in a place like Palestine where young people have very limited opportunities available to them.
One of the characters in the film is a volunteer from the UK, who started an organization called SkatePAL. What does SkatePAL do and what influence has it had on the local scene?
Yeah we met Charlie over there, and he introduced us to a lot of the main characters in the film. He’s been volunteering in the Palestine for a while but in the last couple years he’s been working on SkatePAL which provides skateboarding equipment and facilities to kids across the West Bank.
How did you get involved in SkatePAL?
When we made the documentary we saw the work of SkatePAL first hand. It’s run by skaters for skaters which is great, so when we got back to the UK we started to help by putting on some fundraisers. Theo also went back to Palestine shortly after the film’s release to volunteer with SkatePAL’s skatepark building project – which you see Charlie planning for at the end of Epicly Palestine’d.
Is it true that lots of girls take part too? What’s the experience like for them?
Yes there are a lot of girls wanting to learn and take part, but there are a few more barriers to participation for them. Some towns are more conservative than others, and girls there can only be taught by female instructors. So if you’re a female skateboarder who’d like to help out, get in touch!
What’s the most powerful lesson you’ve learned through making the film?
It was truly eye-opening to be in a place where something as huge and global as skateboarding has only just started to make its mark. Most people in Palestine still aren’t really aware of it, but it was great to see how the kids there have embraced it. What became clear over the course of making the documentary was just how powerful skateboarding can be as a way of connecting people. Not just in forming new friendships and communities within the country but also internationally. There are now loads of skaters from all over the world visiting Palestine, which wouldn’t have been the case if this little scene there hadn’t existed.
What’s next for you and SkatePAL?
The latest skatepark in Palestine is now finished and SkatePAL is looking for skaters of all abilities to teach skate classes between February and October 2016. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested!