Fiction framed as documentary, “This Ain’t California,” Marten Persiel’s prize-winning hybrid — opening today at the Maysles Cinema in Harlem — “prints the legend” in telling the tale of Denis Paracek, a fabricated character in the real world of East German Rollbrettfahrer (skateboarders).
Ain’t is the movie’s operative word. The no longer extant DDR may be a land of myth but it sure ain’t California and “This Ain’t California” ain’t exactly a hoax. The milieu really existed. Nor is the movie an exercise in simple nostalgia, although the emotional charge it delivers is dependent on its being set in a time and place where every athlete was officially an activist and any non-conformity was a political stance. It also ain’t a documentary fiction, which is to say, a movie that employs rudimentary sound dubbing and obvious montage to coax a story out of “real life.” In a sense, it’s the opposite, skillfully mixing faux and actual archival material with old-time skaters and good-looking actors, brought together in the ruins of the DDR to mourn a dead comrade, to produce a fictional documentary that its maker characterized as “pretty free-style.”
Images courtesy Sylvia Savadjian