Guest Blog: Pollyanna Ruiz

Posted November 22nd, 2016 by Matt Turner


Dr. Pollyanna Ruiz is Lecturer, Media and Film at the University of Sussex and is involved with the Engaging Youth in Heritage project. Here she tells us about one of the films produced as part of the project, You Can’t Move History, about the campaign to save South Bank’s famous skate spot, and the relationship between film and skateboarding.

You Can’t Move History was inspired by Long Live South Bank’s campaign to save the undercroft from being redeveloped. It was produced as part of an academic research project which sought to understand why successive generations of skaters felt so strongly about the skate spot, and to examine how they communicated these feelings to the wider public. The film was designed to be shown to a group of heritage policy makers and arts institutions in the hope that it would help them better understand the skater’s heritage claims.

There has always been a long standing connection between the skating and film. Many of the skaters interviewed during the course of this research project first experienced the undercroft at a distance. In other words they first experienced the undercroft through photographs in skating magazines, short films shared online or the skate scapes of video games. Skater turned filmmaker, Winstan Whitter describes how, in the 1990s, a single video camera served the whole of the UK skateboarding scene passing from skater to skater and from city to city to city. Nowadays the relative abundance of digital technologies means that skaters can easily film each other skating in iconic skate spots such as the undercroft. This collaborative ethos underpinned the film making process of You Can’t Move History and the film features a mixed media of film/video, photos and documents combined with contemporary media from Winstan Whitter, Henry Edwards-Wood and skateboarder, Jenna Selby, Travis Wardle and many other contributors.

The way in which the images and sounds of You Can’t Move History were crowdsourced from the skate community has had a real impact on the feel of the film. Henry Edwards-Woods argues that skater filmers are better able to capture the uniqueness of the undercroft experience than non-skater filmers. He says “I know what to film ‘cause I know what I’m looking to capture because I’ve seen it a million times before. […] one of the things I do naturally in my filming, is you frame what the skater is doing around the obstacle because that’s what’s important, whereas most people just follow the skater”. Winstan Whitter built upon this technique by putting lots of slow motion movement into the film to give the audience a better sense of what it feels like to skate through space. Using super wide-angle lenses for the point of view tracking shots in this way takes the non-skating viewer into the architecture of the undercroft, through the artworks and gives them an unusually immersive cinematic experience.

The images of the undercroft in the film are accompanied by the passionate voices of the skaters talking about why the skate spot is so important them. Whitter played around with audio during the editing of the film and was able to draw out the atmosphere of the space through its unique acoustics. This soundscape was summed up by one of the skaters interviewed who said “just the way it sounds, people can tell you exactly the way it sounds, I can hear a thousand different sounds, only one place sounds like Southbank, that’s it.” Whitter isolated the sounds you hear when you walk by the undercroft and added echoing electronic guitar sounds from a previously recorded music session. Editing these rough noises helped re-create the sound of the place full of skaters having a session and encapsulated an evocative element of their undercroft experience.

You Can’t Move History won Best Research Film of the Year at The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 2016 Research in Film Awards held at BAFTA and was described by the judges as “an innovative and clever journey through heritage, youth perspectives and architecture.” Watch the film here.

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