"Moonlight" / PREMIERE

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Skateboarding is just as full of surprises as it is broken down into entities, scenes and the individuals who run them; most often provided with a drive so strong, it has generated cultural exchange since its inception - one that predates the convenience of modern technology and the instantaneous, straightforward quality of social media. Albeit nowadays, one's geographical location really no longer determines who gets seen and who doesn't (so long as wi-fi is available and the local figures, enthusiastic about it), the weight of certain remains, inheritance of a past where only a handful could claim exposure, can still be felt affecting our culture, dictating specific directions we should look in, as we're still naturally desperate for a shelter from the unknown, and into the familiar. But this is a mold to be broken as, instead, daring opening up to venturing into insecure territories comes with the greatest of rewards: the betterment of one's knowledge that directly stems from new encounters, new experiences. Now, have you ever considered skateboarding in Costa Rica? Well, here we catch up with filmmaker Francisco Saco and skateboarder strong of two decades on the plank, Miguel Castro, upon the release of their new montage: "MOONLIGHT", filmed in Croatia during and around last year's edition of the Vladimir Film Festival, premiering here and now on LIVE Skateboard Media; but also to reminisce about, and most likely expose some of you to "CANASTA", the epic full-length video documenting the scene in Costa Rica, a country packed with talent and crusty spots just as rich as anywhere else, all the while standing out due to the location's unique twist. Watch, read, learn, rejoice, enjoy!
 
LIVE Skateboard Media: Yo guys, may you please introduce yourself and where you're from? What is your background in skateboarding like; when, where and how did you start? Who were your first influences, and how was the scene in Costa Rica at the time?
 
Francisco Saco: I had my first run-in with a skateboard when I was five years old living in Miami, Florida, my place of birth. Egged on by older cousins to bomb hills and attempt some hairy maneuvers, let's just say that first run-in left me scarred for life, both physically and mentally. I tried getting back into skating several times after that, but it wasn't until around age seventeen that I got the itch and dove in head first, and this time it stuck.
 
It was also around that time that I was beginning to develop a serious interest in cinema. Since I obviously wasn't going to get anywhere with the skill set I had feebly attempted to develop on the board, I turned to the camera and began the long journey of documenting said activity. And so now it's been going on for some fifteen years, this filming endeavor of mine.
 
Up there: Francisco Saco. Ph.: Miguel Castro
 
I can't really speak for the Costa Rican scene in its early days since my family, originally from Cuba, moved here in 1990 and I didn't really get into skating until much later, and at that point my circle of friends were already over skating and I was the only stubborn one to continue with it. I would say then that at that time my influences were primarily US American. Thrasher Magazine and 411VM were the main sources for me in terms of being exposed to skate media outside of Costa Rica. I remember getting my hands on a copy of Puzzle #13 and I guess I'd say that was my first true exposure to European skating.
 
At a local level, everyone who skated in Costa Rica was aware of the Chepesent crew and of some other rippers like William Conejo and Esteban Quesada, who are now considered legends of the scene. Those were definitely the dudes who were looked up to the most.
 
Miguel Castro: I'm Miguel Castro, I love films, pictures, paintings, now thirty-six years strong of living in Costa Rica.
 
I first started skating by just being a child playing - my first encounter with a skateboard might have been when I was eight or nine years old but then I'd just use it like little kids do, not trying to do tricks, just playing with it, butt-boarding around, I could barely stand up on the thing. Then around the time I turned twelve, I started wondering how I could jump with my skateboard; that was 1994, so I count my skate years from that first, very little ollie on.

"We used to make our own flat bars and carry them across the town just to have something besides the ground to skate"

It was hard to learn how to skate as we didn’t have any information at all; I remember learning varial flips thinking they were kickflips [laughs]. Then I eventually started making my first skate friends and I'd always ask them about trick names, or if they had any magazines I could look at, since videos were harder to come by here - we'd get them two to five years late here, and only the biggest names from the US.
 
Later in the 2000's, I got to skate some Damn AM's in L.A., then one Tampa AM in 2006 but in general, I've always kept skating and traveling in Central America, Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua.
 

Miguel Castro, nollie flip. Ph.: Aymeric Nocus
 
My first influences were my close friends and then, every once in a while, a good video such as Toy Machine's "Welcome To Hell" or the first Zero video - so we'd get it the American way. The scene in Costa Rica back then was truly underground, and with a lot of rippers - I think there were at least two or three generations older than me. We used to make our own flat bars and carry them across the town just to have something besides the ground to skate, and the ground here - oof - I can assure you is the worst. But just being able to ride for myself at the time was inspiring, I'd count the minutes at school every single day then proceed to go straight to skate as soon as out.
 

Click to watch Francisco Saco's full-length video from Costa Rica: "CANASTA".
 
LSM: Last year, you managed the feat of dropping a full-length skate video entirely filmed in Costa Rica entitled "CANASTA". How did that come about? You spent two years working on it and managed to cover most provinces in the country, right? Video featured some of the crustiest spots I've ever seen on footage and everybody somehow remarkably dominated those. Who are some of the most prominent skaters in "CANASTA"? How was the filming process like? Would you say it's representative of the scene in Costa Rica? What is the story behind your aesthetic - the hi-8 footage and soundtrack, all local and in styles ranging from traditional music to punk rock, feels like a genuine Latin-tinted throwback to the H-Street videos as opposed to those same elements being utilized as luxury, trendy gimmicks in most of the current edits people throw them in. In comparison, your approach seems a lot more sincere.
 
Saco: I was just getting ready to leave Europe, Berlin to be exact, after almost eight years of living there and move back to Costa Rica, where my family was still based. I had in some way carved out a niche for myself in Berlin, making these rough, anachronistic skate videos with an old hi-8 camera my father had dug out of storage and given to me. And yes, I can perhaps be accused of jumping on the retro bandwagon that skateboarding experienced at the end of the naughts, but there was something about the general aesthetic of the analog camera and the feel of the coloring that made me nostalgic, that harkened me back to family trips we had made and documented with the same camera that I was now using to film skateboarding.
 
That notion of longing dictated by an overt amateurism is something I always somehow wanted to retain in the work I was making. I always try to think about back when I started making videos and how little I knew back then, and how I can still try to incorporate that somehow in what I'm making now in the present moment. That really informs what I do.

"Skateboarding has existed in Costa Rica since the late seventies and there have been countless rippers who never got their due praise"

At the same time, having moved back to Costa Rica, I was also trying to get away from filming skateboarding, trying to develop other aspects of production and story-telling, as I had studied cinema. But it's like the mob, you can never really leave, someone will always reach out to pull you back in.
 
And in this case it was two really distinctive members of the skate scene in Costa Rica: Isaac "Trona" Valdes and Kevin Mejia. Those were the first two guys that reached out to me to try and go out and start making something happen. And from there it just grew organically, to where we got Miguel involved, since his company Vagabond sponsors those guys. Once the project got snowballing, Olman Torres of Standby Project saw its potential and jumped right in, documenting the material we were starting to produce. And so the hype machine swung into full gear. Costa Rica is a small country and people find out about things very quickly here, so the project drew the interest of a lot of people and somehow they all wanted to participate one way or another.
 

Miguel Castro, backside tailslide in Fazana, Croatia. Ph.: Taufek Asmarak
 
For me though, I never had a full vision of what "CANASTA" was going to be until I was already knee deep in it. That's when I decided that I wanted to make a true Latin American video, with music that featured Spanish-speaking artists and that could really fit with the individuals features as well as the locations and spots, which are so crusty and conserve a total underdeveloped aesthetic of their own.
 
I also wanted to shine a light on a scene I felt was totally under-recognized and under-appreciated, not just at an international level, but even at a Latin American level. Skateboarding has existed in Costa Rica since the late seventies and there have been countless rippers who never got their due praise. I wanted to make something that could stand in with the legacy of skating in this country, but at the same time that would have enough of an impact that it could create its own legacy, to a certain degree, and go beyond the borders of this small nation. Hence the idea behind having recognized guests from around the world to come and help make the project that much more international and stand out amongst the crowd. That was even my idea with the naming of the video, choosing a name that had meaning not just in Spanish, but also in English (Canasta is a card game played by mothers and grandmothers the world over).

"As far as the crustiness of the spots goes, if someone grew up skating in Costa Rica, they can skate anywhere in the world"

Once the project had that sort of ethos behind it, the goal was to try and conquer as much territory as possible, to see and skate as much of the country as we possibly could. "CANASTA" features spots from six out of the seven provinces of Costa Rica and I can say I'm pretty satisfied with the coverage we got. I would like to think that the video succeeded in highlighting quite a varied mix of skaters, especially in such a small country where a particular brand of skating is quite the norm. The US American bangers and hammers style of skating is what you see most kids are into here, and of course I wanted to have a space in the video to represent that, but I also wanted to make sure I gave a space to other tendencies and styles. It's mostly the reason why I think Trona's part stands out as the most distinctive part and one that can really show the rest of the kids who skate here what all else is possible to do on a board and how to channel different cultural influences.
 
The video was shot over a two year period and we were true weekend warriors, as most of us have day jobs. Making a living off of skateboarding here is pretty inconceivable and only a handful of people have managed to do it over the course of skateboarding's history in the country. In my opinion, every person in the video brought something special to the table, something that made "CANASTA" what it is. I couldn't envision this video without the participation of everyone in it.

"The fact that we were going to be flying out to Croatia to have the world premiere there was totally mind-blowing"

As far as the crustiness of the spots goes, if someone grew up skating in Costa Rica, they can skate anywhere in the world. Spots are hard and unfriendly here and tricks must really be worked for. Nothing is a given.
 

From Costa Rica to Croatia. Ph.: Miguel Castro
 
LSM: How did this new clip "MOONLIGHT" come about? Did you bring your camera along with you in Croatia with expectations of any kind or was it more of a "see what happens" kind of scenario? You ended up getting a crew together to go all the way from Pula to Split after the Vladimir Film Festival, right? Did you expect to see certain particular faces, or were you curious as to who and how many people you were eventually going to meet? You filmed "MOONLIGHT" in just a few days, right? Would you describe the filming process as more spontaneous than for a more ambitious project such as "CANASTA"?
 
Saco: The opportunity to participate in an event like the Vladimir Film Festival was such a gift, and the fact that both MC and I were going to be flying out to Croatia for the festival to have the world premiere of "CANASTA" there was totally mind-blowing, so of course I was going to bring my camera along with me on this trip, just like it had gone on so many family trips years before. I had never been to Croatia and I knew the trip was going to be special, plus coming from so far we were definitely going to come out for at least three weeks, so I invited Valeri Rosomako and Konstantin Rutschmann, two of my very good friends and class rippers from Berlin, to come and join us.
 
 
 
We had a total spontaneous attitude and on behalf of MC and I, we were really looking forward to making new friends and contacts to help us out in this unfamiliar territory. And it couldn't have worked out better for us. Everyone we met in Croatia, locals and foreigners, were so open and accommodating and really helped us out. Skating Pula and Fazana with whoever was up for it every day was like being at summer camp, that giddy feeling of newness and discovery seeped into everything. 

"I've always enjoyed this bringing together of people who normally wouldn't be seen hanging out and co-mingling with each other"

Vladimir is such a brilliant meeting of the minds and it was there that we met a crew from Split, headed by Dino Coce. After the festival, we had heard so many good things about Split that the four of us (MC, Vale, Koni and I) rented a car and headed there, deciding to hit Dino up. And what we found was a heaven on earth. Amazing weather, wonderful coast line and beaches, great food, cheap beer, gorgeous women, and of course, amazing spots for days on end. We even had the great fortune of spending time with another Vladimir participant there, Mr. Jim Craven. On a side note, I'd just like to take this moment to say thanks very much to Dino and his crew for taking care of us the whole time we were there.
 
If there's one thing I've always enjoyed about skateboarding, it's this bringing together of people who normally wouldn't be seen hanging out and co-mingling with each other if it weren't for the act of skateboarding itself. You get all sorts and types and I've always had the tendency to feature that sort of spirit in my videos, that anyone with any style can really participate. "MOONLIGHT" is the product of a skate trip that was more like a great time being had by friends new and old. No pressure to get tricks, but everyone still really excited about skating new spots and documenting whatever came out, open for anything that came across our path. For MC especially, it was a real opportunity to shine and have fun on new territory. He's a real street dog and got material at practically every spot we went to. And all at the ripe age of thirty-five. Yeah MC!
 

Miguel Castro, wallie in Split, Croatia. Ph.: Francisco Saco
 
LSM: MC, it was a pleasure getting to meet you at last year's Vladimir Film Festival in Croatia, where this new clip "MOONLIGHT" was filmed. How would you describe skateboarding in Costa Rica, past and present? Do you see an evolution there, how hard and how fulfilling is it?
 
MC: Skateboarding in Costa Rica used to be streets only - we didn’t have skateparks back in my day, making it very different from today, as we're now seeing a crazy amount of (bad) parks being built. But they all have at least a flat bar, a box or a mini ramp; I wish we had that back in the nineties. The evolution is amazing, you have to come and see those new kids - it's like, wow, they can do everything easily, which is actually really good to witness, as somebody with a background in a country as small as Costa Rica now seeing thousands of rippers emerging from all over the place, it's something special. The modern, easy access to cameras is like a dream come true: we can film and watch what happens all around the world, and we get to choose our own idols or ways to skate. It's like having a menu with everything.
 
LSM: You have a few sponsors, how often do you get to skate in foreign countries and how does the comparison with Costa Rica feel like?
 
MC: Yes, I am very lucky - I started working for a distributor of surf and skate brands when I was seventeen, which helped me get sponsored over time and I've been skating hard and actively trying to break my own limits ever since. A sponsor is something to be grateful for, and a privilege to have had, although without mine I'm sure I'd still be skating just as hard today! My current sponsors are Element Costa Rica, Adidas Skateboarding, Roots Trucks, Vagabond, Solowood Wheels, Pizza Pata Heredia, Mercado Negro. Traveling is hard and expensive but, thanks to my sponsors, I've been living the dream - I travel as much as I can every year, and last year was one of the greatest. Each and every opportunity to study a different scene and skate in other countries feels like a graduation from university to me; I'll always try to do my best to keep the dream alive. Some of the travels are paid by the sponsors, some of them are paid by me...

"Skateboarding makes me feel part of a community of sensitive, smart and creative people more than everything I've ever known"

I think the rough ground from my country actually gives me a little advantage when I travel, because growing up I had to learn how to ride everything and be creative to get stuff done at non-existent spots, and figure out how to do any trick into or out of nowhere, so of course as soon as I travel, my inspiration is in a heaven of new obstacles, new languages, new friends; I try to take all that energy in, to grow as a skateboarder and as a person.
 
LSM: Before the "CANASTA" premiere at Vladimir, you gave a moving opening speech about how treasurable it was to be part of a community of skateboard lifers (with most everybody in attendance having been an enthusiast for over twenty years). Before coming to Vladimir, had you experienced such a feeling before? How did it feel to get to expose your "CANASTA" part, Costa Rica spots and your way of interpreting them to the eyes of people from all over the world? Could you foresee such cultural exchange might happen back when you were still in the process of filming for the video?
 
MC: I mean, I've had plenty of kinds of experiences with people involved in skateboarding, but I can truly say the people I met at Vladimir were legit - they made me feel part of the history of skateboarding and we bounded like brothers. Being anchored in such a scene felt so epic to me. Thanks for keeping skating what it essentially is, and doing real core skateboard things.
 
About showing "CANASTA" at the festival; at the beginning I was scared, seeing as it was scheduled for after Zach Chamberlin's videos (Push Periodical's "Partial World Tour II" and Northern Co.'s "SF to Japan") - I was nervously anticipating to be in the big leagues, but at the end of the video everyone was excited and cheered us up Saco and I; we got some good feedback, then the next days felt comfortable! I felt appreciated as a person, and like I had just scored a perfect 100 at my final degree, so I have to give thanks again - skateboarding makes me feel part of a community of sensitive, smart and creative people more than everything I've ever known.
 
 
Not once during the filming process did I ever think about what people might think about "CANASTA" - we were so focused on the last touches, hyping each other up, "trying to make history" - we'd always say that and call Francisco Saco "Fran Sax from History Channel" [laughs].
 
LSM: Finally, what were some of the biggest realizations or lessons you got from that skateboarding experience in Croatia, during and around a unique event such as Vladimir? Do you plan on coming back all the way from Costa Rica to Europe for a next edition?
 
Saco: I guess for me it was really reassuring to see that openness, that acceptance of skateboarding pretty much everywhere we went. I remember bombing hills mid-street in Split and not one single car honking at us. Everyone was content to just let us be. We didn't even really get kicked out of spots. In comparison to Costa Rica, where street skating has become much more of a hassle due to how strict and stringent the country has become over the past few years, it was a total breath of fresh air.
 

Skateboarding in Split, Croatia with Dino Coce.
 
As far as Vladimir, it was quite the inspiring event and both MC and I have tried to bring back that spirit and enthusiasm we found there and somehow inject it into the scene here in Costa Rica. Whether it's to try and organize our own festival or keep documenting the scene, we somehow want to try and unify the scene here more, which is what to me was the great triumph of Vladimir, how it not only united a local scene but really brought together a global community of like-minded skateboarding enthusiasts and creators, to celebrate those positive aspects and qualities the are innate to skateboarding. And I think we can all use something like that in our lives, especially at this particular moment in time the world finds itself in.
 
As far as returning next year, we'll have to wait and see. It was quite the odyssey to get to Pula; around twenty hours, two flights and one bus trip to be exact.
 
A note regarding the soundtrack of "MOONLIGHT": I knew from early on that I was going to want to use Balkan music for the clip. Several years ago, a friend had recommended Disciplina Kičme to me, likening them to Lighting Bolt (seminal US noise rock band and one of my favorite music acts). So I knew for a while I wanted to use something by them. I then ended up finding a compilation of old Yugoslavian new wave and from there I found the intro song, which totally fit. And of course, since it was two Latin Americans travelling through the East, I wanted to throw a nod in to Latin music, courtesy of Charly Garcia (legendary Argentinian singer/songwriter). In fact, like a lot of the music in "CANASTA", I had heard the Charly Garcia tune at a club here in San José. To a certain degree, partying and going out definitely informed and influenced the music and aesthetic qualities of "CANASTA", as well some of my other video work, despite the many pitfalls of that lifestyle that have become so heavily documented in skate media as of late. Everything in moderation my friends!
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