The world of professional skateboarding has always been a source of captivating films about its unique characters, and a Vancouver-produced short documentary can now be ranked among the best of them.
'Joe Buffalo' by filmmaker Amar Chebib brings to mind the powerful storytelling of Jacob Rosenberg's 'Waiting for Lightning', which culminates in Danny Way's feat of jumping the Great Wall of China, as well as Matthew J. Powers' inspirational 'Never Been Done' about Jon Comer—the world's first pro skater who lived with a prosthetic leg.
It's told from a first-person perspective with Buffalo narrating his own story. And what a story it is.
Buffalo became a professional skateboarder in 2019, and was the first Indian Residential School survivor to do so.
While generally the arc of a pro's career starts when they're in their early 20s and ends when they're in their early 40s, Buffalo's begins at the age of 41.
His statement, “skateboarding was definitely a saviour,” is a theme throughout the film, which ends on an incredibly hopeful note after revealing its character's struggles with intergenerational trauma, and his ultimate triumph in becoming a powerful role model and an inspiration for others.
Director Chebib is no stranger to working with subjects with trauma, and helping to carefully tell their stories. His work with Syrian refugees on his feature documentary 'Wajd' informs an approach he describes as allowing subjects to have "a hand in telling their own stories as a means of decolonization, healing, and empowerment."
The cinematography is by Liam Mitchell, a friend of the subject's for over two decades. Their familiarity comes across on the screen, as Buffalo is just as comfortable doing a backside lipslide on a handrail as he is speaking about his path in life.
The soundtrack and overall sound design is the work of Matt Drake and paid intern Kaitlyn Redcrow. Their craftwork elevates the production to the next level, delivering the last blow in a one-two-three punch of great direction, visuals, and sound.
And, of course, an incredible story.