Acclaimed filmmaker Larry Clark plans to
celebrate the upcoming release of his new skater movie, "Wassup
Rockers," at a block party Saturday in Bushwick.
Starting at 4 pm at Knickerbocker Avenue and Thames Street, the event is expected to feature food, giveaways, performances by live bands and skaters, as well as a special appearance by skateboarding great Chad Muska. At 8:30 pm, Clark, the director of "Kids" and "Bully," is scheduled to present an outdoor screening of his latest cinema verite work. Kico Pedrasa, one of the film’s stars, is also slated to attend.
Shot in Los Angeles, the R-rated film follows a group of real-life, punk music-loving, Latino teen skaters as they experience culture clashes from South Central to Beverly Hills.
Clark says the idea for the film came to him about three years ago, while he was in Los Angeles for a magazine photo shoot to promote his previous skater film, "Ken Park."
"I came out here with (’Ken Park’ star) Tiffany Limos, and I was going to photograph her with some of the kids from ’Ken Park,’ but they weren’t around, so I said, ’Well, let’s find some skaters,’ " the 63-year-old Oklahoma native told GO Brooklyn.
"And we went down to Venice Beach and met Kico and Porky who were about 13 years old and looked totally different - all raggedy and their shoes were falling apart and their boards had no pop at all, but they had this style."
The filmmaker says he and Limos struck up a conversation with the engaging teens who offered to take them to meet the rest of their friends in South Central. After a few days of photographing them with Limos all over L.A. and Hollywood, Clark says he began to develop the concept for his film.
"We got to know their story - that they had to fight to be who they are," he explained. "They’re not wearing baggy clothes and dressed like gangsters; they have to fight just to be kids. I thought that was really interesting - that the peer pressure in the ghetto was stronger than the peer pressure anywhere else because [they are at] the age when we can try out different guises and be a punk rocker one day and a gangster the next and a death metal-head the next. That’s the age when you can see what’s comfortable for you, and these kids didn’t even have that."
Clark says that before he actually started work on the film, he spent a year getting to know the teens - most of whom were fans of his controversial 1995 cult classic, "Kids" - and building a relationship with them based on trust.
"The first half of the film is basically recreations of things that happened to them, their stories that they told me, plus things that I saw when I was out there," he recalled. "It kind of wrote itself, because it’s their stories."
The second half of the film was made up, crafted simply to give the boys an adventure outside South Central, Clark adds.
"I just started tripping one afternoon, saying, ’Well, this is funny, then what would happen?’ And it turns out that I’m mixing all these genres," he said. "It starts out foremost as a documentary and then recreating their lives and then there is this fantasy-adventure-chase-action-crazy thing. But somehow it all works together."
As much as he enjoyed making the film and working with the youths, Clark admits there were some rough patches along the way. A 19-year-old skater, who was supposed to be in the film, was gunned down just before principal photography began.
"I included that in the beginning of the film just to show what a dangerous place it is to grow up," he noted.
The filmmaker also says he and his rag-tag cast were chased from the pristine grounds of Beverly Hills High by police.
"I see skaters there all the time It’s a famous skating spot," he said. "I took the kids there to show them the spot [he would use in the film] because they had never been to Beverly Hills High, and the cops would not let the kids go. I showed him my Directors Guild of America card and said: ’Look, I’m making a movie here; it’s all permitted. I’m just showing the location today.’ "
But, the officer, whom Clark describes as being a dead ringer for Robert Patrick - the badge-carrying villain in "Terminator 2" - refused to listen, instead detaining the kids and slapping them with tickets.
"Latino kids from South Central anywhere near Beverly Hills? It was totally racist," Clark said, adding that the overall effect of starring in the film has been positive for the underprivileged - yet talented - youths, instilling in them new-found senses of confidence and self-worth.
"It will give them a lot of opportunity and it does open up the world for them and makes them feel good about themselves," observed Clark. "Now they know they’re worth something. I just watched them open up and blossom. I think that’s a big change; that they really see that they’re OK."
The "’Wassup Rockers’ Free-For-All Block Party" is being presented by First Look Studios, in association with Skate Park Association USA, a 10-year-old, non-profit group dedicated to promoting the safe practice of skateboarding and biking.
" ’Wassup Rockers’ Free-For-All Block Party" - featuring food, giveaways, performances by live bands and skaters, including Chad Muska - takes place on June 17 at 4 pm at Knickerbocker Avenue and Thames Street in Bushwick. At 8:30 pm, director Larry Clark is scheduled to present an outdoor screening of "Wassup Rockers." Because of the film’s rating, only those ages 17 or older will be admitted without a parent or guardian to the Bushwick screening, which will be held in front of Office Ops at 57 Thames St. "Wassup Rockers" opens June 23 at the Angelika Theatre [18 West Houston St. between Broadway and Mercer Street in Manhattan, (212) 995-2000] and nationwide next month.