If you enjoyed Stacy Peralta’s documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys you will definitely like Coan Nichols and Rick Charnoski’s “Northwest.” Shot over the summer months of 2002, “Northwest” offers a glimpse of the skateboarding culture in the Pacific Northwest. While “Dogtown” presents a more historical look at how surfing evolved into skateboarding in south Santa Monica, California, “Northwest” solely focuses on a group of people and the sport they love.
Audiences will meet skateboarders all along the northwest coast of the continental United States in this forty-six minute long documentary. Nichols and Charnoski reveal that in addition to loving and participating in the sport, the skateboarders interviewed also build skateboarding parks. They explain that since skateboarding is very popular with young people, it is important for them to have a safe place to play. The skateboarders make a contribution to their respective communities because they thrive in a decade when skateboarding isn’t the mark of youth gone wild.
Nichols and Charnoski shot “Northwest” in black and white on super-8 film. The black-and-white makes it difficult to date the documentary footage, but paying attention to specific visual cues (cars, clothing, and the presence of protective gear) will help you approximate a decade. The black-and-white also preserves the illusion of the images’ “timelessness.” At the same time, though, a thirty-second clip tinted in gorgeous color appears in the middle of the documentary and is so refreshing that you’ll want more of it. Alas, half a minute is all you get.
Aside from the one moment of color, you’ll also notice that Nichols and Charnoski’s film doesn’t contain any “talking heads.” Most documentaries are comprised of people talking and their voices over other footage. While even three minutes of nothing but a talking head can grow tiresome, zero minutes of said head is disconcerting. When “Northwest” introduces a new interviewee, a still shot and a subtitle identifies whose voice you hear, but you never see the voice come out of the speaker’s mouth. It takes some time to get accustomed to the absence of talking heads, but “Northwest” is worth that time. In case you believed otherwise, skateboarding is more than a hobby, and “Northwest” proves it.
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