Not Sponsored & Not Sponsored II

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

NOT SPONSORED

5/10

Slovenia 2000 : Mitja OKORN : 50 mins (VHS)

NOT SPONSORED II

5/10

Slovenia 2002 : Mitja OKORN : 60 mins (VHS) (50 mins action plus 10 mins credits)

While the likes of Dogtown and Z-Boys and Jackass gain widespread international cinematic release, their junior cousins like Not Sponsored enjoy a much less publicised, underground existence. This is the world of the extreme-sports compilation video – in which surfers, skateboarders, snowboarders and the like capture each other’s stunts for posterity on often shaky, cheap DV cameras. Unlike their tag-spraying pals, the boarders’ art is fundamentally transient – of all the skateboard stunts going on around the world at any one time, only a minute fraction will be recorded and transferred to another medium.

And skateboard culture is, pretty much, a global phenomenon. While the Slovene kids shown in the Not Sponsored videos may not be too thrilled to see their government cosying up to NATO (the target of most graffiti in the capital, Ljubljana), they almost invariably favour the standard, practical US street-kid uniform of baggy shorts, big trainers and logo-plastered t-shirts – even if, as the ‘Not Sponsored’ name implies, many are aware of, and firmly reject, the tempting tentacles of big-name ‘corporate’ branding.

Slovenia isn’t a particular hotbed of skateboarding – no more so than any other relatively prosperous state in or around the European Union – but there’s something fascinating about watching these stunts being performed on the not-so-mean streets of Ljubljana, Kranj and Ptuj. In the background, we see a variety of well-maintained (if underpopulated) shopping precincts, office buildings, tourist-trap castles, housing projects. For the non-skate-oriented, videos like these may appeal as a casual, accidental urban record – a bizarre kind of travelogue exposing some seldom-seen corners of one of Europe’s least-known territories.

Not that many non-skaters will be able to see Not Sponsored – videos like these are primarily made for the participants’ benefit, and to be shown on battered TV screens in board shops. The stunts are, of course, repetitive – and an hour of such material reaches an almost zen state in which the basic equation of skater, board and urban obstacle (staircase, ramp, rail) is played out with only the tiniest variation.

Director Mitja Okorn at the Berlinale Talent Campus 2003While the skill level is often impressive, as in Formula One racing, much of the interest depends on things going wrong: the culture extreme-sports video demands that spills gain as much precedence as smoothly-executed virtuoso displays – in NS1, the disasters are accompanied by the ironic strains of Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day.’ The skate-video format, meanwhile, also requires many close-ups of the bruises, gashes and tears that, quite literally, go with the territory: time after time we see some grinning Slovene lad (and they are all male) holding up to the camera his latest ‘red badge of courage’.

In Not Sponsored II the emphasis on the consequence of failure is amplified – towards the end there’s a montage of disasters that’s almost as painful to watch as it must have been to perform, with one especially nasty-looking ankle injury that requires a trip to the hospital and some fairly drastic bandaging. “Accident will happen,” comments a dry voiceover in Slovene-accented English – there isn’t a great deal of dialogue, so the lack of subtitles isn’t a problem (apart from one lengthy monologue to camera in NS2). These skaters don’t express themselves in words, but in deeds – and while the skate stunts offer a relatively limited vocabulary, director Okorn has rather more latitude to operate within in terms of his chosen medium.

For the most part, the stunts are presented relatively raw, in normal time (in contrast to Dogtown‘s counterproductive preference for slo-mo), then perhaps repeated again slightly slower for our delectation and admiration. Despite a couple of ill-advised sections in which the director self-indulgently dances and gurns before the camera in what looks like his bedroom, Okorn’s style has visibly developed in NS2 – his montages are neater and more direct, occasionally experimenting with a second camera.

NS1 uses a selection of mostly American punk/hardcore tunes – NS2 progresses towards a more eclectic accompaniment, bringing in many more local bands (an anti-NATO ploy?) and slowing the tempo down on occasion. This is most effective when Okorn deploys an instrumental version of ‘Scarborough Fair’ under a surprisingly elegaic sequence in which brief images of an endless-summer existence fade to black. Perhaps the idea is to suggest, impossible as it may seem to the skaters themselves, that their youth will one day seem as fleeting as any of their other, momentarily successful, board-borne defeats of gravity.

8th March, 2003
(Not Sponsored seen on video, 20th January 2003; Not Sponsored II seen on video, 8th March 2003)

To order copies of this video visit this page : http://www.skejt.com/oglasevalci/opus/filmi.php?lang=ang

To read director Mitja Okorn’s report on the 2003 Berlin Talent Campus click here.

by Neil Young