In 2006, director James Cheeks and photographer Kevin Campbell, both Los Angeles residents, came to Long Beach to capture its thriving skateboard scene in the aftermath of a gang-related shooting that ended the life of one of the city’s most promising skaters– 16-year-old Michael K. Green. What resulted is the documentary On The Grind, which follows a diverse group of skaters who are elevating themselves out of poverty with their passion of skateboarding. The skaters practice at a skate park located in the middle of a war zone where drugs, violence and homelessness run rampant.
In the past three years, the filmmakers have discovered compelling stories of loss, loyalty and brotherhood that transcend Long Beach, and they hope their documentary will prove to be an artifact of the urban skate phenomenon while providing hope for a community struggling to keep its youth from the undertow of gang violence. One lesson Cheeks and Campbell learned from the experience is that skateboarding isn’t just some suburban sport, it’s a means of survival.
“I made this film for my cousin who has spent his entire adult life behind bars and for all of the at-risk youth who are heading in the same direction,” Cheeks said. “I wanted to make a film that I wish had existed when I was 14 years old and looking for my niche in a confusing world. A film I could relate to, skate to, but most importantly, a film that could show me how everyone is important and how every life is valuable, no matter where you’re from or what society thinks about you.”
On The Grind was selected as “Best Documentary Short” at the 2009 Mammoth Film Festival, and it will premiere this weekend at The Art Theatre, 2025 E. 4th St., for two matinee screenings on Saturday, May 15 at 11am and noon. All ticket sale proceeds will be donated to the Michael K. Green Fund.