Thanks to Dogtown & Z-Boys, we all know that modern street skateboarding and its culture was born in California. But a new interactive project from the National Film Board of Canada reveals that a little known Canadian film was a pioneer in both skateboarding film and the development of Direct Cinema, a movement of the late '50s and early '60s that helped change the face of filmmaking.
Director Claude Jutra's 1966 film The Devil's Toy was made in Montreal and chronicles the stirrings of a new youth culture. Now that skateboarding is a global phenomenon and industry, in many ways considered a major sport, the NFB wanted to take a closer look at its cultural side through the lens of Jutra's original film.
But given the organization's digital prowess, it wasn't going to stick to just film. It commissioned 11 short films by directors from around the world and created an interactive site called The Devil's Toy Redux. It allows users to navigate from one film to the next and to get a glimpse of skate culture in places like Montreal, Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver, Athens, Singapore, France, Germany, and Serbia.
NFB producer Hugues Sweeney says the The Devil's Toy is the second skateboarding film ever made and one of the project's goals was to give the film its proper place in history. "We wanted to pay tribute to Jutra and his film and we didn’t want it to be a nostalgic tribute, but rather a present-time interpretation of it," says Sweeney.
The original film was edited down from 14 minutes to six minutes. Filmmakers were asked to stick to six minutes, while also incorporating eight themes consistent with the original, including intolerance, submission and authority. Viewers can navigate through the site and films by city, but also by theme.
"For this project, the thread is definitely the original work and the liberty and freedom everyone had to interpret it," says Sweeney. "We tried to find the balance between form and content, where the the experience of the user is part of the story."
Director Steve Durand's film follows a group of New York City punks as they play music, hang out and, of course, go skating. He says he wanted to show the consequences of skateboarding becoming more mainstream. "Skateboarders are perceived and treated by the world completely differently now—the industry, the sponsors, the contests, pros being treated like rock stars and making good money—I wanted to show a bit of how much that had changed the culture," says Durand.
But the group of skaters he filmed are a throwback. "Their whole attitude was the real deal," says Durand. "They don’t skate to get signed by a sponsor or win a contest or to get filmed, they do it to hang out and have fun with their friends. It was like finding a living example of what skateboarding used to be, when it really became a culture."
The project doesn't stop with the films and site. Skaters from around the world are encouraged to tag their Instagram photos and videos #devilstoy to have them automatically appear on the site—thanks to geo-tagging— with the corresponding city, offering an even wider range of perspectives on skate cultures around the world.