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Skateboarding can be a magical thing. For most, it’s a fun time to push around with your friends. For others, like Joe Buffalo, it’s a necessary escape. In a documentary short where his name doubles as the subject and title, the story focuses not only on Joe, but sheds light on a discriminatory school system made to, in his words, “kill the Indian, save the child”. A boarding school created by the government and run by the church took children away from their reservations and their families and forced them into a system that not only attempted to imbue religious ideology but failed to protect them from various forms of abuse. Once Joe was old enough, he bolted.
Director: Amar Chebib
Release date: March 16, 2021 (SXSW)
Rating: Not yet rated
Joe narrates his story throughout, recalling the first time he saw someone pop an ollie and fell in love with a sport that at its core only requires a piece of wood with some wheels. He found freedom in skating, and more importantly, a community. He admits that he made some bad decisions, which caught up to him and cost him some time in prison. He openly talks about thoughts of suicide, and how he overdosed three times in one summer. Sobriety became his goal, and he used skating to help put his thoughts and energy into something he loved, and eventually turned pro.
The film packs a lot in its brief, seventeen-minute run time, and leaves you wanting more. It gives the feeling of really diving into Joe’s life, but by the end, you realize you’ve barely scratched the surface. The film revolves around Joe, but its focus on residential schools is eye-opening, and thankfully, those systems have since been shut down. There are plenty of clips of Joe skating (something that this former skate shop employee was happy to see), and passing the torch by teaching kids and hooking them up with decks. There may be some rough edges, but there simply is nothing like what the skateboard community can provide. Joe Buffalo is living proof.