Tony Hawk’s face fills the screen within the first two minutes of a skateboarding documentary, and dozens of world class skateboarding athletes quickly follow.
There’s vintage footage of skate parks and stairs and rails accepting the raspiness of the wheels of the skateboard scraping its surface, and the thump of those who tumble and fall.
In the midst of kickflips, half pipes and ramps, the mirage of a skateboard documentary disappears as a deeper thread of the human experience stands out among the conversations with more than 70 professional skateboarders and skateboard enthusiasts in Michael Cohen’s award-winning documentary.
“Humanity Stoked” will finish its year long tour of film festivals with the Coronado Island Film Festival on Nov. 12 at 4 p.m. at the Coronado Performing Arts Center with a pre-party starting at 2:30 p.m.
After more than 40 film festivals in 16 countries, the documentary that just won its 19th award will have the chance to be viewed in Coronado on the very last day of the festival.
That’s what the film is really about. It’s not about skateboarding, and we rarely talk about skateboarding in the film.Michael Cohen
“That’s what the film is really about. It’s not about skateboarding, and we rarely talk about skateboarding in the film,” Cohen said in an interview with The Coronado News. “And it’s interesting to see how people perceive the film and how many of them realize that the film is about the human experience.”
But, not even Cohen knew this was what his documentary was going to be about when he first started filming in 2018.
Evolution of the documentary
Cohen had no prior experience or knowledge about filmmaking or cameras or anything to do with documentaries, he said, when he set out to film what he initially thought was going to be just about skateboarding charities and the work they were doing.
The film quickly evolved when he started talking to skateboarders, and the potency of humanity stood out among the athletics and sport of skateboarding.
For Cohen, humanity means suffering, gender inequality, homophobia, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health and misogyny.
At the core of all of that?
Through 110 interviews, with 70 making it into the documentary, Cohen found that it was fear.
“These are all either often caused, directly or indirectly, by fear, but they are almost always, at the very least, exacerbated by fear,” Cohen said.
The deeper meaning
But humanity also means overcoming all of that; working towards acceptance of different kinds of people, of the reality of substance abuse, and that humanity is just that: someone, somewhere out there has gone through what someone else has, and that’s why it’s called the human experience, he said.
No one is alone, in anything, the documentary found.
How do we better employ deeper thinking about issues that scare us so that we can approach them more successfully and more effectively, and not just let our minds and our hands be guided by our fears?Michael Cohen
“How do we better employ deeper thinking about issues that scare us so that we can approach them more successfully and more effectively, and not just let our minds and our hands be guided by our fears? Like we’re a tail wagging a dog,” Cohen said.
Using the bond and love of skateboarding to bring together a diverse group of professional skateboarders, but also educators, musicians, artists and scientists who all have their own unique but shared understanding and experiences of being a human was the goal for Cohen.
Cohen also brought in an external issue that he felt was important to address – and that was the environment.
“It’s something that affects everybody and that unification of whoever you are, whatever gender you are, whatever age you are, you have to live in the world. And so, that affects everyone,” Cohen said.
He said he initially didn’t feel the need to build the link between environmentalism and skateboarders, but he included professional skateboarder Brian Anderson donating his urethane wheels to a local skatepark because they can’t be recycled.
A dream come true
“Little acts count, they add up. Little acts spread across hundreds of millions of people make a difference,” Cohen said. “Even though you can’t see it, it makes a difference. So, I hope people get that too, when they watch the film.”
Before the film had premiered or aired anywhere, it had built a following on the internet and social media, resulting in Cohen and his team being flown to their very first film festival in Tampere, Finland.
Since then, they’ve been on a whirlwind of film festivals and accepting of awards while doing Q&As where Cohen has been able to hear from audiences all over the world about the impact his film has made.
Cohen said the film has been his dream since he was young, and he never thought he would get to experience such success.
I’ve learned the power of not being fearful, getting out of our own way and surrounding ourselves with positive, supportive people.Michael Cohen
“I’ve learned the power of not being fearful, getting out of our own way and surrounding ourselves with positive, supportive people,” Cohen said. “And the process of this film helped me learn that more than anything else.”