Vladimir Film Festival 2021 recap
Words and photos by Will Harmon
After the pandemic stopped a full-fledged festival from happening last year it was great to be back in Croatia for Vladimir in 2021. Upon landing in Pula on September 14th it was quickly apparent that VX (or Vladimir number ten) was going to be quite busy this year. I say this because there were already about 15 Brits on our RyanAir flight from Stansted, and we knew about a dozen more were coming from Heathrow on a flight later that day. As we made our way to Fažana via taxi it struck me how strange it was to be back in a van in a foreign county with loads of other skateboarders. In fact the last ‘skate trip/event’ I had been on was to here, just two years prior.
The festival officially began at Kasarna, which is the name of the community centre complete with indoor mini-ramp acquired by the Skate Club August Šenoa, an organisation started up by the Fažana locals. Across from the centre an old mini-golf course has been constructed into a DIY spot as well. As we approached Kasarna that evening I was nervous for the start of the films as a lot of us were quite worried due to Covid about packing into the small community centre as it had been raining all day. But my worries quickly dissipated when we arrived as we saw a huge screen erected up outside complete with projector and loads of chairs. Conveniently it had stopped raining just a couple hours before the films were to begin as well. Nikola Racan, founder of Vladimir and ultimate MC, started off the festival with a speech thanking everyone for coming and a little about the films we were to see that night.
In the past few years Vladimir has gotten bigger, more well-known and they’ve featured big budget films and dozens you’ve seen on the major skate media’s websites, but the essence of the festival is to showcase underground productions and local videos. The first film was Nevolja by Hrojve Zubović, which was a video all filmed at night in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital. There’s something thrilling about watching a skate video all filmed at night whilst you are outside in the darkness yourself. Nevolja translates to ‘trouble’, which I’m guessing is what skaters are often referred to by angry Zagreb city-goers. The whole video is nice, and for once the drone shots didn’t bother me, but the stand out for me was Zagreb local Antonio Peković. He does this crazy taildrop thing into a subway that’s just mental, I dunno, hard to describe but when this is eventually online you’ll see why I mean. There were two videos from Prague with a noticeable lack of Stalin Square footage. I think I counted a total of four Stalin tricks in both full-length videos, quite impressive. Nikola asked me to come up and introduce Mike Mag’s extended length version of The Saudade Express. I’ve never met Mike, but as his videos have often been on this site I suppose that’s why he asked me. It was sick to see all the CPT Mafia heads in the friends section of this longer version, and I’m truly a fan of what Mike does. I’m sure he’ll make the journey to Croatia himself for next year’s festival. In between films a guy came over to us with a bag of crisps offering them and simply saying: ‘Covid?’ I declined, but somehow this joke somehow didn’t get old and he kept going around again and again…
In attendance was Nick Richards who showed the world for the first time his two newest Nocturnup videos. These were all shot at night before the pandemic in Taipei and Seoul. Daryl Dominguez, Tom Delion, Chris Colburn, Jasper Dohrs and Marquise Henry all went in, but the highlight for me was Daryl’s 360 flip from a drop into a steep bank at dawn, just as the sun was coming up. I’m sure these edits will be on the interweb soon. Speaking of going online soon was the last video of the evening: Jon Wolf’s Samurai Safari (Fuga Vol. 2). All the Italians were here at Vladimir for this… Even Daniel Cardone with his acoustic guitar. As you may have seen in the latest issue of Free the video is a result of a month of filming in Italy by Jon Wolf. First in Milan and then onto Sardinia for a Samurai Distribution camping/skate mission all around the island. Jon Wolf told me recently that it was a bit of a spiritual awakening for him this trip. Once you see the edit for yourself you can see tell it was nothing but good vibes with friends; something desperately needed after the past 18 months of what we’ve all been dealing with. Jacopo Carrozi, Mauro Caruso, Mattia Turca, Martino Cattaneo, Schianti Lepori, Simone Verona and more all dazzled in the edit, but don’t take my word for it, you can see it right here on the site this Thursday. (shameless plug?)
With the films over for the evening people headed into the mini-ramp for only about five minutes until the cops showed up. In years past the nights in Kasarna at the mini-ramp had lasted until six and seven AM, but Croatia is under a curfew for Covid at the moment so indoor restaurants, bars and venues cannot be open past midnight. We remained outside and wandered to the beach, somehow two crates of beers appeared and the debauchery continued. A small famous tattooed Australian skater (recently called the Keith Richards of skateboarding) was somehow angry at us British lot, maybe because Giz was mocking him and poking him in the ribs, but anyways he started throwing rocks at us. Throwing him in the sea was discussed, but then it started pissing it down, we all became soaked ourselves and thought otherwise. We huddled under a closed-for-the-day beach bar for a little bit longer until the rain stopped at 4am. Then it was time to go home.
On Friday the 17th the festivities began at Fort Forno, an old fort from WWI with a semi-famous transition wall. First up was Hollis Hampton Jones, she had followed skaters around in Athens, Paris and Nashville and Vladimir printed a limited edition book of her stories. She was introduced by Sylvain Tognelli, who helped her edit the stories.
As the sun set next up was our pal Kyle Beachy, who flew in all the way from Chicago, to give a reading from his new book ‘The Most Fun Thing’. I highly recommend you pick up a copy, it’s filled with lovely essays and insights about skateboarding, and Kyle isn’t afraid to speak his mind or cause offence when deemed necessary.
When it became fully dark it was time for the films to begin. The Vladimir crew had put up a huge screen and bleacher seats so that the 200+ crowd were able to have an unobstructed view. The first film was Stephen Fox: The Motion Picture about everyone’s favourite Welsh nomad Sox. I’d never seen full a part from Sox, so this was really a treat, his boardslide to blunt pop-in on the Clapham Junction quarters was a highlight for me; Jackson (Davis) really smashed it with this one. Next Jackson debuted the new Jordan Thackeray part. This was deemed a ‘Director’s Cut’ with the music Jackson and Jordan originally intended, but were unable to get the rights to. In this day and age, getting the music for an online release… Well, ‘You can’t always get what you want…’ You’ll see a version with a different tune soon, but no matter the music there’s no denying that Jordan is really going to go places with this part. I mean one video part containing 4 tricks that are covers! Come on, you know it’s a banger.
At this point I decided it was time for some hair of the dog as I’d been battling a hangover all day and luckily there were cheap beers and wine on offer and Tibor came through with a delicious curry. That saved me. The Vans Europe crew was in attendance for the Dichiarazione di un Dato di Fatto: Incompiuto film, which was a voyage through Sicily filmed by Ale Formenti and Mauro Caruso. The crew hit all these concrete structures throughout the island which were predominately half built buildings where the construction had halted due to corruption and Mafia demands. It was a nice change to see the Vans Europe crew filmed on VX, and of course they all excelled. Martino scooped frontside airs on a mammoth full pipe as well as 50-50ing a Heath-esque 17-stair hubba. Pfannman fakie flipped a roof gap and Yeelen applied his unique approach to spots with tricks no one would have ever thought of. Of course Doobie had some hammers and Rob Maatman was as smooth as ever, but what really stood out for me was Oscar Candon. Coming through with such style and speed it was really a treat to see Oscar’s approach to all the Sicilian concrete wonders.
Quicksand from Raul Zgomba (of Tabula Rasa fame) was next. This had the crowd cheering with local Croatian skaters featured and familiar Pula spots seen. Some great skating in Quicksand by Dino Coce and Antonio Peković. Raul continues to hold it down for the local scene. Short Bus 2 by Josh ‘Pizza Box’ Hancock showed all of the behind the scenes skating that went down during the filming of Loveletters. Some impressive Grant Taylor moves in this one. And the last film of the evening was the final Loveletter to skateboarding, this one featuring Jeff Grosso’s son Oliver. It was heartfelt and a good closing for the night.
Saturday came and the events were due to take place in Pula in the evening, which gave everyone time to skate the city beforehand. Pula isn’t huge, but there’s some good spots, hills and the ground is so smooth it glistens. I witnessed Joe Paget wallride down a bunch of stairs and Charlie Munro make light work of those same steps as well. I got to skate a little myself for the first time of the trip and I filmed the others before we had to head to the Kino Valli theatre. When we arrived there was an exhibition inside by the magazine Dolores showcasing the accomplished all-girl skate crew in Barcelona. Lots of sick shots of the crew hitting Barca’s many spots as well as the Spotter DIY.
After Nikola welcomed everyone to the theatre the first film began: How poles become white. Now the films usually shown in this theatre for Vladimir are usually longer, more documentary style and How poles become white by Tino Bucholz fit the bill. The film wasn’t really about skateboarding at all, in fact the only connection to skating was that the protagonist happened to be a skateboarder. But the general theme of the film was about living as an immigrant in Poland and the Netherlands and how one is treated. It delved into some themes of capitalism, philosophy, racism, parenting, etc., but it follows three people and their daily lives in Poznan Poland.
After a 10-minute smoke/bathroom break the next film that showed was Desert Dogs by Samuel Morris. It follows the lives of two young Moroccan skaters Aya and Ibrahim. Unbeknownst to many, quite a number of skaters had left their families along with the traditional Muslim way of life to voyage to Taghazout, a small fishing village with an incredible skatepark. These skaters camped out in tents, slept under the stars and sometimes on friends’ couches just to be close to the park. Being a woman skateboarder in a predominately Muslim country is an incredible feat in itself, but I don’t want to give away the whole story, let’s just say Desert Dogs was quite moving. It makes you realise how privileged we are in the western world by having easy access to skate shops, skate spots and open-minded attitudes towards skateboarding.
The last film of the evening was Jeremy Elkin’s All the Streets are Silent. I had been really waiting for this one as I heard it was superb. With Rosario Dawson, Busta Rhymes, Harold Hunter, Mike Hernandez, Vinny Ponte, Jeff Pang, Kid Capri and more, the star-studded cast really delivered. Most of the film was the result of Eli Gesner’s recovered Sony handycam footage, interspersed RB Umali’s footage, dozens of interviews and an overall narration my Mr Gesner himself. It shows the connection between skateboarding and Hip Hop in New York from 1987 to ’97. The never-before-seen footage is worth a watch alone (that unseen Jay-Z freestyle at Mars!), but the whole film is brilliant. My only critique is at times it felt like a Supreme commercial as the majority of people interviewed seemed to be strategically decked out in Supreme gear. But honestly the film was so sick, can’t wait to watch again.
After we all left the theatre and headed to Rojc, a repurposed Army Barracks built in the 1870s, which has now been transformed into a community centre. I had skated there before on previous visits, and out back they have a nice DIY wallride spot.
In front there’s a fabulous new skatepark, but it was 11pm so we headed into the courtyard of Rojc for a late night Punk show. At first I didn’t know what to expect, but then the band started playing at it’s as if I was transported back to 1989 listening to the Santa Cruz’s Streets On Fire soundtrack. It was sick: people were moshing, Pepe Tirelli got lifted up by the crowd and even #NakedDave made an appearance. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
By midnight the band was done and we moved on to drinking on the steps out front. People laughed, skated and enjoyed one of those mild September Croatian nights where you warm enough in a t-shirt. Joel Banner handed a super-sized bottle of Radler that he had poured chocolate rum into, it tasted like candy… I thought: ‘Arthur would love this…’ You should come next year Mr Derrien.
Sunday: One of the greatest things about Vladimir is you can take a dip in the sea to cure those morning hangovers. It’s a great place to snorkel and there’s rock jump spots nearby where they often hold the famous Outlook festival.
So after a swim and long lunch it was almost time to hop on the ferry to Brijuni island for the last films of the festival. The Vladimir-subsidised ferry ride departed Fažana at 6pm and this was one of the more tame journeys this time as compared to years past.
We arrived on the island and Marina and Marko explained that we had an hour to roam around, see the zebras and explore the national park before the films were to begin. They reminded everyone to respect the National Park and pick up your trash.
The clouds were getting quite dark at this point, but everyone headed off nonetheless. A few people rented golf carts to cruise but the crew I was with decided to walk. We got about 200 metres and then the thunder and lightning started. Lights drops of rain then fell and a few of us decided to head to the nearby park bar with tables and big umbrellas out front. Just as we got there it really started pouring, like monsoon style rain. Feeling completely dry and quite smug we ordered Aperol Spritzs excellently made by two 14-year-old sisters with their father watching on. Stuck under this little bar roof the rain didn’t let up, a waterfall formed down the terrace steps… Slowly the rest of our crew (the ones who decided to just chill under the bleachers) spilled in. Soaked was understatement. This guys looked like they had a dip in the sea fully clothed. Anyways, more spritzs and then we headed over to the Brijuni Island Hotel where the back-up plan commenced. As Tito’s outdoor theatre got rained out a screen and projector were set up in the hotel’s ballroom. As the festival’s attendees piled in, most people were soaked. Gio Grazzani slid off his wet outfit and fashioned himself a toga with what I assume was the hotel’s white towels.
Before the scheduled films of the evening Nikola called up Luka Pinto and Jim Craven on stage. Continuing with the festival’s traditions, Nikola told the crowd that there would be showing some last minute additions to the film line-up that evening. Luka’s Crew Report (Croatia edition) played like a ‘Come Visit Istria’ tourist video for skateboarders. The amount of footage his crew got on the 2019 Vladimir trip is unbelievable, like, how did he get it all in? There’s loads of spots in it that I’d never even seen before and this is my fourth time coming to the festival. They truly went above and beyond. Next Jim Craven’s ‘where the land meets the sea’ played. It was a rough edit, but once again, for the 3rd film in these past few days, Daryl Dominguez and Tom Delion shined. The film centres on a two trips with Grey and Vans around the coastal towns of Great Britain. Conor Charleson does what he does and rammed into some tight transitions but then this time there was even a nollie frontside heelflip involved! The trip looked sick, which you can see photos of in the latest Grey, but you’ll have to wait for final version to be released, it’s due out sometime in the new year.
Now onto the first feature film of the evening, which apparently was just finished the day before with some last-minute editing. Revolutions on Granite by Brendan Gilliam and Peter Conopask was by far my favourite film of the entire week. Revolutions is a documentary about Maidan Plaza aka Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine. Since the late eighties it’s always been famous place to skate in Kyiv, you may recognise it from an old I-Path trip there in 2007 or more recently when the National Skateboard Co went. The plaza has had a couple refurbishments over the years but it’s always been a place where skaters in Ukraine met up to skate. But in 2014 the plaza became world renowned for another reason: it was the main protest site for Ukraine’s revolution, which resulted in the ousting of elected president Viktor Yanukovych and the overthrow of the Ukrainian government. The overwhelming view of the Ukranian citizens for the past couple decades was to ally more closely with the EU and Yanukovych kept stalling due to his close relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin. It all came to a head in February with protests, riot police and deadly shootings that left 82 people killed and more than 1000 injured. All this happened at the main skate spot in Kyiv, can you imagine? The skaters talked about walking through and seeing dead bodies on the ground, right where they used do kickflips and crooked grinds. After allowing the military to use live ammunition on protesters on February 22nd, 2014 finally Yanukovych left the capital. The protestors stormed the capital buildings, peace was restored and the country received help from the EU. I feel like my description kind of gives the film a disservice, but trust me, it’s truly incredible. I was so impressed I missed a large portion of Rick Charnoski’s last film as I was talking to Brendan and Pete about Revolutions. Sorry Rick.
We had to catch the ferry back to Fažana at 11pm so after one last drink at the hotel bar we all crowded onto the ferry. This time the rowdiness was in full effect. Pepe crowd surfed again, Jacopo somehow had a razor scooter and #NakedDave made another appearance.
Once we got back to Fažana the wildness continued. It’s easy to get wrapped up in that ‘Fire it up’ vibe but I briefly thought about how much Vladimir had changed since my first time in 2014. It was feeling like it was turning into a more King of the Road or CPH Open-style event except this was a small Croatian fishing village. I worried about the repercussions of Vladimir’s growing popularity.
The next day unfortunately my previous night’s worries were confirmed… Two golf carts had been smashed on the island that Sunday and apparently there was beer bottles and trash left everywhere in the National Park. Vladimir is a great festival and an incredible time, but if you come please respect the village, the island and all the residents. It won’t be able to continue if the village starts to loathe us skateboarders.
I want to thank Nikola, Marina, Marko, Oleg, Tibor and all the filmmakers, writers and artists that attended this year. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you do. It’s always the highlight of my year going to Vladimir. See you in 2022.