Vladimir Film Festival 2019 recap
Words by Will Harmon
It had just started to rain, so I ran over to the ‘Black Lady Bar’ to seek cover. Of course the bar was closed on a Wednesday at lunchtime, but the outside terrace gave me shelter from the torrential thunderstorm that day in Fažana, Croatia. A flash of lightning and a quick, loud boom of thunder startled me as a lightning bolt struck a tree just metres from Nikola Racan’s house. It was actually a thunderstorm exactly one week prior that started our trip to the Istrian region of Croatia for the 9th annual Vladimir Film Festival. I say a thunderstorm started our trip because about 14 of us all boarded a RyanAir flight from Stansted to head to Pula Wednesday the 25th and although it was a slightly bumpy ride with a bit of turbulence as the plane landed it seemed we weren’t too far behind schedule. “Ladies and Gentlemen this is your captain speaking… Due to the severe thunderstorms in Pula tonight we made the decision to divert to Trieste Airport.” We’d landed in Italy: two countries away. Great… Two and a half hours later some coaches pulled up to the Italian airport and after a bit more of a delay (the bus driver had just driven two hours straight and claimed: ‘I need a 30-minute break’ before he could drive again) we headed off to Pula by bus. Leaving Italy, passing through Slovenia and finally into Croatia we arrived at the Pula airport at 4am, just five hours after our intended arrival. No biggie… We got a taxi to Fažana, which was 15 minutes away and by around 4:30 am we were safely in our accommodation.
Waking up the next day to the shining sun in the beautiful seaside town of Fažana almost made us forget about the previous night’s (or I should say that morning’s) debacle. I quick swim in the sea will sort everything out. The festival began later that day with a photo exhibition in the Brioni Hotel, with the various artists introduced by Vladimir’s founder and life of the party Nikola Racan. Ricardo Napoli gave an impassioned speech and was even brought to tears describing his frustrations with the USA’s immigration policies, which had led to him being kicked out of his home in New York City. The photo exhibition featured photos by Ricardo along with works by Brian Lotti, Tom Delion, Peter Fettich, Jenn Grabowski, Pete Thompson and Jordan Hill. Outside the hotel there was a skate market with independent brands and retailers including the Palomino, Absurd Skateboards, Simple Skateboards (from nearby town Rijeka), Dorkzone and others.
I hadn’t been to the Vladimir Film Festival since 2015 and after looking around at it all on that first night one thing was blatantly apparent: the festival had grown. Nikola and some friends started the festival way back in 2010. Croatia hosts many music festivals in the summer and a large portion of the local young people in the area work at these festivals each year. After working hard all summer Nikola and his friends had the idea to play some skate films on the big screen, drink some Rakija and unwind from the busy past few months. They emailed some independent skate filmmakers and asked them if they could play their films. Many said yes and in September 2010 the Vladimir Film Festival was born. Since then it’s only gotten more international. My first visit to the Festival was in 2014, and apart from myself, Jacob Harris and Aymeric Nocus everyone else attending that year was from the region (Slovenia, Italy, Croatia) and the total number of festival attendees was about 60. Now fast forward to 2019, the ninth year of the festival and the festival appeared to be hosting 300 people from all over… I met people this year from Brazil, Canada, the USA, Belgium, Poland, France, the UK, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria, Serbia and the list goes on. Rumour has it that Fažana’s population increases by a third when Vladimir is on.
The films began at 8pm in a small courtyard outside of the hotel, first there was Javier Varillas’ The Ultimate Pessertive Remix followed by Ricardo Napoli’s Ciao. The third film that evening was To Ni Hec, which I’m slightly embarrassed to say I’d never heard of before. To Ni Hec first came out in 2009; this was the tenth anniversary screening. It’s one of the most famous skate videos to come out of Slovenia and the guy who edited it, our friend and legendary good guy Tomaž Šantl, has the first part. I won’t describe it in detail, but it got some of the loudest cheers of the night. Have a watch for yourself below:
After To Ni Hec, which I’m guessing is a Balkan pronunciation of ‘Tony Hawk’, Sean Lomax premiered his Cottonopolis film in full. Sean was an early pioneer in 4:3 ratio HD filming, it’s refreshing to see a full-length in this format. After that everyone walked to Kasarna, which is an old community centre with a mini-ramp and sound system – basically where everyone parties the night away. At Kasarna was another photo exhibition by Urška Preis and the Radio FM DJs. The party went on well into the morning.
Friday the 27th of September was day two of the festival and in the early afternoon everyone slowly made it to the Kasarna DIY. Tom Remillard was slashing the DIY like no other whilst Tibor was cooking up egg and mushroom (with beer batter) sandwiches and there were some serious Ping-pong competitions on the outdoor table. One of the great things about Vladimir is most of the action happens in the late afternoon or early evening. This gives you time to skate, swim, explore, nurse your hangover or do whatever you like before the main festivities begin. At 7pm in one of the main squares of Fažana, the Piazza Grande, Davy Van Laere had an exhibition of photos from Moscow. The Vans Europe team was there for support, but of course everyone there was already aware of this due to Doobie’s high-volumed antics. Victor Pellegrin is anything but low-key…
This year Vladimir welcomed a musical guest: the legendary Daniel Lebron. Dani was invited to play flamenco guitar along with his friend Ramon Piñas Gracia on vocals. Not only the skateboarding festivalgoers but a lot of the local residents came out to see the performance and of course it was a treat. It’s quite impressive to see someone so skilled at playing a musical instrument whilst knowing that this is the guy that can do fakie hardflip switch crooked grinds.
After the performance and a huge round of applause the films began. It began with Paul Labadie’s Mockba Life, which you may recognise from the article of the same name in Free Issue 26. You’ll be able to see this edit right here on Freeskatemag.com next week (shameless plug!). Speaking of Russia, next up was Absurd Skateboard’s Dno, which as you can see below, stars Gosha Konyshev and some really big all-terrain wheels.
Next up was Jackson Davis’ You Slid Through, which chronicles a trip to the Pacific Northwest with Jordan Thackeray, Alex Hallford and Sox who were all in attendance. It was pretty exciting to see J-Thaxx and the other Brits shredding Burnside and all the famous parks out there we’ve seen in videos so much.
Krzysztof Godek’s If You don’t skate – don’t start featured many Polish rippers you don’t get to see too often. Not to be overlooked is the local video Tabula Rasa by Raul Žgomba. Raul’s crew collected footage from throughout Croatia and the results are pretty impressive. The rarely seen Balkan spots really stand out and make it easy on the eyes plus having rising Croatian star Antonio Pecovic start the video off can’t hurt! Be on the lookout for this video online when it’s released. And the last film of the evening was Luka Pinto’s Crew Report Volume 1: Pandora’s Box. It’s a full-length video of Jersey featuring Glen Fox, Dillon Catney, Jeremy Jones, Eduardo de Rocha and others. Luka worked on this for three years… So even though now he has a bum knee, he’s managed to film a full part in this much to everyone’s delights. After the videos played everyone headed back to Kasarna for a mini-ramp rampage and tunes by DJ Kool S. That night Daryl Dominguez and the Lovenskate guys really slayed the mini…
On Saturday the festival typically moves over to nearby city Pula. In years past this meant a day of skating the ultra-smooth Pula streets and then ending up at the Kino Valli cinema in the evening and that’s exactly what happened again this year. It’s quite nice skating with different crews of people who wouldn’t normally skate together… You’d have Dillon Catney getting tech at the ledge spots whilst Daniel Lebron makes everyone’s jaws drop by his flatland prowess – at the same time Aymeric Nocus would be spinning incomprehensible step off no-comply variations to grind and then Daryl Dominguez was there complaining about his crappy bushings and tight trucks whilst Tom Delion was attacking the ledges with steez and speed. You sort those bushings out yet Daryl? Haha…
At 7pm everyone congregated at the Kino Valli cinema to check out an exhibition of photographs from Julian Furones. Then at about 8:30 everyone piled into the cinema. The first film was by Paul Botwid, which was a short documentary about Skate Nation, a charity from Stockholm set up to introduce skateboarding to immigrants. The Skate Nation documentary mainly focused on a few guys from Afghanistan. It’s always exciting seeing the joy newer skateboarders get from landing their first tricks, but knowing what these few had been through to get to Sweden their expressions and reactions were especially touching. Speaking of reactions, the second film titled, yep, Reactions, ha ha, was by David Mikulan. It chronicled the reactions of the public to skateboarding in Debrecen, a small city in Hungary. As you may imagine the old folks just don’t understand it and are generally quite rude. There are a few exceptions though, a few open-minded folk.
After the films about 300 people walked up the adjacent hill to the Pula Castle or “Kaštel”, a Venetian fortress built in 1633. This was the site of Josh Stewart’s Static XX exhibition. After everyone grabbed refreshments and Josh said a few words about how he started the Static series 20 years ago, the doors opened and we entered the castle.
To say the Static XX exhibition was impressive would be an understatement… First of all the venue was incredible, I don’t know how the Vladimir guys got permission to exhibit a skate exhibition in this nearly 400 year-old room, but it was really incredible to see Josh’s collected trinkets from the past 20 years in this beautiful space. There were the original tickets to the first Static premieres, a Beta-max master tape of Static I, small booklets with notes of 16mm shots Josh wanted to get, dozens of photos, multiple mini-DV tapes with descriptions like: 2004 Barcelona + Cairo Pyramids first day, India, Delhi 2005, Soy Panday, Ed Selego, Guru Khalsa, Bobby P. step to cella, Pat S. Crosby St Combo, etc. Knowing that Josh collected all these things as memories and keepsakes from his independent video series really warmed my heart. I’d expect this kind of exhibition from an older brand like Powell Peralta, but too something like this for the Static series… Well it’s just incredible. Josh told me that he had just recently thrown away a lot of keepsakes from his storage unit in Florida too, Nikola had contacted him about the idea of an exhibition just after. I can’t imagine what he must have gotten rid of, but luckily for our sake he kept a lot of gems to show at this exhibition.
At 11pm we all moved down to the Cvajner Gallery to see a photo exhibition by Henry Kingsford. Henry’s photos captured the Carhartt team skating Santiago Calatrava’s architecture. Outside an impromptu midnight session took place on the steps of the Augustus Temple. A temple I might add, that was built in 2 B.C. Ride on grinds on a 2000-year-old building? No problem… Gilbert (James Gilbert) handled it, and then proceeded to rip of his England shirt, set it on fire and exclaim “Fuck Brexit” whilst giving it the finger. But I only saw this from afar, as the Cvajner Gallery Bar’s €2.50 Aperol Spritz’s just tasted too good.
Sunday everyone moved pretty slow… The hangovers were eased with swims in the sea. At 6pm we all hopped on the ferryboat to the Brijuni Island for the last night of the festival. Brijuni Island is a National Park, so there are no cars over there. Apparently you can rent golf carts or bicycles, but when the ferry got there we just walked. We walked towards the sunset to see the Zebras.
The island used to belong to the Yugoslavian dictator Tito. It was his private island and he liked to keep a lot of exotic pets. We saw loads of deer, hare, Zebras, horses, peacocks and more. But soon it was dark and we made it back to Tito’s former private cinema. It’s the third year of showing films on the island and I’m still gutted I missed the screening in 2016 of Colin Read’s Spirit Quest, which was the first film shown there.
But 2019 still had some things to watch… First was Jim Craven’s Pearls, the video piece that accompanied Henry Kingsford’s photos from his exhibition. Ollie Lock, Sylvain Tognelli, Joe Gavin and others skated Santiago Calatrava’s works in different cities and countries throughout Europe. Calatrava’s architecture rarely contains perpendicular angles, which makes it stand out and of course appealing to skateboarders seeking curved, slanted surfaces. After that was a change of pace, a little injection of humour with Dork Zone 2 by Mike O’Shea, Nils Svensson and Phil Evans. Mike’s animations came to life as current and former students from Bryggeriet handled the skating and skits. Lastly was Tomas Campbell’s Ye Olde Destruction. Entirely filmed on 16mm the whole film is extraordinary, as well as the original soundtrack, but the most touching moment for me was to see footage of Ben Raemers skating on a car during one of the NorCal sessions.
After the film we all went to the Brijuni Island hotel, a hotel which looks like it’s straight out of a Wes Anderson movie. We had a quick drink there then it was back on the ferry to Fažana. Some wen to Kasarna again after for a BBQ and DJs, but I went back to the airBnB.
Monday night there was a skate quiz at the Black Lady bar. The bar gets its name not from the owner’s colour of skin (don’t worry she’s white), but for here Black Death Metal look and taste in music. Aymeric Nocus and Marko Zubak came up with the questions, which ranged from “What is the origin of the trick name ‘Lazer flip?’” (The sound effect added in from Mike Hayes’ part in Timecode by Alien Workshop, which only one team got this correct) to “What was the last trick in Nyjah’s ‘Til Death part? (A crooked grind down a double-kink to nollie flip out, which every team missed). We cleaned out the bar and drank what may have been our last Rakijas for a while.
Tuesday the few people that were still in town headed out the rocks in Kamenjak. People jumped off cliffs, tall rocks, we swam through an underwater cave and then spotted a massive jellyfish. We soaked up the last bit of sun, drank sangria, ate Ćevapi sandwiches and played Ping-Pong at the nearby Jungle Bar until it got dark. The next day was a massive thunderstorm. Can’t complain about six days of good weather though. We all had a late lunch, said our goodbyes and watched as the sky cleared to produce a breath-taking last sunset. Off to the airport in some taxi vans, back to England where autumn temperatures were already in full swing. Thank you Nikola, Marina, Marko, Tibor, Aymeric, Butko and everyone else that helped make another incredible year at Vladimir. A few friends even got Vladimir tattoos this time. Can’t wait until next year… Tenth annual Vladimir in 2020! Whoop whoop! See you there…