A professional skateboarder’s akimbo life is expressively translated into cinematic terms in “Dragonslayer,” filmmaker Tristan Patterson’s poetic and astringent debut docu. Profiling more than a year in the rocky journeys of Josh “Skreech” Sandoval, whose base is Orange County but whose stage is the world, the film observes a guy verging on poverty or riches with a bounty of beautiful imagery and fresh angles on skateboarding culture. Sandoval’s less-than-likable self is interesting, but could cut into pic’s commercial potential as it starts a brawny fest rollout.
Tellingly, the most explosive demonstration of Sandoval’s skating chops occurs over the opening and closing credits, shot on his flip camera as he rides up and down the curves and walls of an empty swimming pool. For much of the rest of the film, Sandoval — who has had a modest following on the international skating circuit as well as a few sponsors, but is hardly a star — struggles through several matches.
The film is problematically broken into eleven sections, titled with brief phrases and numbered from 10 to 0. At first, the effect is engaging, but it soon makes the 73-minute running time feel longer than it should. The chapter breaks also disrupt the flow built up by editors Jennifer Tiexiera and Lizzy Calhoun, as scenes suddenly shift from one locale to another (in one case from Orange County to Malmo, Sweden, and back again) to suggest the jumpy nature of Sandoval’s existence.
This existence includes Leslie Brown, a gal whom Sandoval met a few years ago and spots at a Fullerton skate hangout. Much of “Dragonslayer” traces the course of their developing relationship, which includes Sandoval’s toddler (by another woman), Sid Rocket Sandoval. The intimacy of lenser Eric Koretz’s camera (the Canon 5D Mark II, equipped with superb lenses) brings the pair far closer to the viewer than is customary for a standard docu, almost achieving the feeling of a narrative film.
It becomes apparent that Brown is more than tolerant of Sandoval’s lifestyle and attitudes, which are mercurial at best and can land them in strange locales, such as a blazing hot Fresno ‘burb where his business associate Josh “Peacock” Henderson lives, or a tent in another friend’s backyard. Although there’s a lingering sense that 19-year-old Brown, who has college in her sights, is likely to move on from Sandoval’s vagabonding and moodiness, she loyally sticks by him through thick and thin.
Despite a slew of skateboarding films in recent years, each one quite distinct, Patterson’s pic arguably comes closest to channeling the culture’s punk vibe and youthful abandon, albeit filtered through an outsider’s aesthetic. A useful comparison can be drawn to Larry Clark’s “Wassup Rockers,” another beautifully shot Southern California portrait of young skaters; whereas Clark’s kids are defined by their group identity, Sandoval is like a lone wolf, or, as one admirer calls him, a “dragonslayer.”
Production elements are solid in all departments, with a fine, mood-filled score by T. Griffin and wide-ranging music supervision by Dave Golden.