I caught up with Skate Kitchen director Crystal Moselle while she was in Stockholm for the annual film festival. We spoke about haters, time machines, and the sociopolitical landscape that informs her work.
Before we get to the interview, a few words. Moselle emits this self-possession that I find so stirring. May we all learn from the transparency and valor she displays here.
This interview has been edited for length, structure and clarity.
KK: I’m curious — did you skateboard at all growing up?
CM: I wasn’t a skateboarder, but I knew how to skateboard boys.
KK: Well, what I loved the most about Skate Kitchen was the extent to which I could identify. These are the conversations that young girls actually have behind closed doors. This is how they communicate. So, I was wondering — how did this script come into fruition? Was it more of a collaboration between you and the girls?
CM: I met the girls, and became friends with them. That’s how the relationship started. I had this idea to do a short film. That was a really great experience, and I got the opportunity to make the feature off of that. So, really, it was just — I hung out with them, and I would write notes about what they were doing in their lives.
KK: Was it of importance to you to have the script not shy away from certain topics?
CM: I just wanted the girls to talk about things that girls talk about.
KK: As a filmmaker, what challenges did you have to face starting out?
CM: I think just, like, finding your voice, and what your style is. What you’re going to create. You have to mess up a lot of times, and figure out what your point of view is. I think a lot of filmmakers, starting out, just think, “oh, I’ve got to make this big film, and it has to hit hard” or whatever. No. You have to mess up a lot, and completely understand what you identify with as a filmmaker.
KK: Did that take awhile for you to do?
CM: Well, I’m 38 and I’m just figuring it out. and I’ve been doing this since I was 15. So, it takes a while. I discovered early on that I really loved working with documentary, but from a point of view where I kind of have my own perspective. When I was a teen, I did this video with these kids walking down this hallway, and I slowed it down, and, like, put it to some song. I discovered that there’s all this space within this world that was [manipulated].
KK: What advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue independent filmmaking in this day and age?
CM: Make lots of short projects. Mess up. Realize what you like about your work.
KK: Shifting gear here — I know you’re from the U.S., and they’re having a bit of a moment. Do you, perhaps, feels this urgency or pressure to inform through your work?
CM: The pure art form of creation is not what it used to be. Now, it’s like, “Oh, I’m a female [filmmaker], so I have to make a film from a female perspective”, or, “I’m this race, so I have the responsibility to tell a perspective from my race”. There’s definitely pressure, but I, personally, just always go for my gut. I can’t even make stuff that isn’t completely what I feel like inside.
KK: I think the difference now is that you can’t really separate the art from the artist anymore.
CM: You can’t. My friend and I, we call it the “time machine”. You can’t erase things from the past and move on anymore. Everything that you do in your life is recorded, and it follows you. It becomes a part of who you are as an artist.
KK: How do you feel about that?
CM: I think people change. They shift, and they learn things, and they grow up. They fuck up, and they redeem themselves. It’s all different. There are so many shades of these situations. Sometimes people get wrongly accused. As artists, we are creating something, and I think that if people want to watch or see something from somebody who might not be a good person — I don’t know — art should be provocative. I want to see provocative art, for sure.
KK: You mentioned earlier how it took some time for you to figure things out.
CM: I knew that I wanted to direct films, I just didn’t understand what they were going to be yet. It took me a long time to figure out my point of view. I still don’t know what I’m doing. Everything I do is, like, faking it to make it. It’s just — learning how to be confident, and trusting the process of what you’re doing.
KK: How was that process like for you?
CM: For me, there was a long time where I didn’t have the confidence, and I needed to work with other people. I would co-direct things, but that ended up never working out, because I am so opinionated and I know exactly what I want. I think confidence is really just about starting to understand what you want.
KK: How do you deal with backlash?
CM: I don’t give a fuck. I don’t care. They can say whatever they want about me. At the end of the day, I’m still going to create stuff, and make things. I have tons of haters. That’s what happens when you get successful. People want to make themselves feel better by putting you down. Trust me, at times, when you’re feeling shitty, it affects you. You have to just focus on the people that support you. There are going to be people that are going to connect with you, and support you, and be there for you, and those are the ones that you have to, like, focus on.
KK: Where do these comments manifest?
CM: In articles or film reviews that completely do not get what you’re doing. With Wolfpack, people would say that I exploited the boys, or that I took advantage of them, and things like that. I know that I didn’t. I was close with them, and friends with them, and helping them, and still am. You just got to know, in your heart, what you do and be confident about that and then just go with that. It’s like when I have someone in my comments saying fucked up shit or whatever. I know I’m a good person. My motivation for what I do is really about bringing people up and helping people.
By Kassandra Karlström
When she’s not chowing down on dumplings or sleeping for twelve consecutive hours, Kassandra is most likely marathoning Rick and Morty in the comfort of her own abode in Swedenland. That, or swooning over the works of Don Hertzfeldt whose World of Tomorrow is up to par with her other favorite picture, 12 Angry Men. Follow her @krlstrm.