A grinning Nikola Racan approaches me with light feet at the parking lot in front of Pula Airport, cigarette in one hand, old-school cellphone in the other. So far, the status of our friendship only said “Skype calls”, but he greets me with open arms in such a way as if we had enjoyed countless sessions together in the past. I put my baggage in the trunk and climb into the back seat of his old Kia that has Aymeric [Nocus] and Vantte [Lindevall] already waiting inside. Aymeric has returned here for the fifth time already, which makes him the longest-serving foreign visitor, and Vantte filmed a video with which the festival will conclude. By now, we’re rolling gently towards Fažana. The past couple of days were stressful, but right in that moment, I realize that I’m among friends and lean back in relaxation.
A couple of days later, I will ask Nikola what’s so special about the festival and he will answer by quoting one of his friends, Marko Zubak, who said, “'You know what is beautiful? People coming back.' And they spread the word when they’re back home. This festival is definitely based on friendship. It’s the same state of mind. You can take the happiness here and bring it back to your home.” You’ll get that feeling after a couple of seconds and with that, everything has been said already. They’re not playing Champions League, Nikola admits, they can’t offer big names à la Ed Templeton (although Sergej Vutuc, Colin Read, Benjamin Deberdt, Yoan Taillandier, and Jacob Harris have already been there), but the festival continues to grow and each year, a big and tight-knit community gets together in the village of 3,500 souls in order to have a good time.
Back in the days, it used to be all fishermen here as well as a bunch of military. The town was mostly used as a transfer hub to the island of Brijuni – the domicile of communist dictator Tito, who constructed a lunatic residence in the style of some James Bond villain, including a zoo with elephants, zebras, and everything one can imagine. Just for his arrival, the road from Pula to Fažana was completely renewed twice a year and when he passed through the town, people weren’t even allowed to open their window shutters. These times have been long gone and now the festival will end in Tito’s private outdoor cinema on Sunday. The skateboarders come as representatives of freedom – at least that’s how Samu Karvonen has put it in one of the films that were screened. Maybe it’s not the kind of freedom that most of the people around here have on their minds, but it’s still freedom. And by now, the people have started appreciating the accomplishments of the festival.
In the meantime, they’ve realized that besides the actual tourist season, there’s a little bit of money to be made even though those few skateboarders only make up a small part of the one million tourists per year. Without the support of the people, all of this would be impossible anyway. Nikola was born and raised here and pretty much knows everybody. That’s why his neighbor sells cheaper beer to the skaters at his kiosk, there are reduced prices on menus at another restaurant, and thanks to the mother of a friend, the screening was able to take place on the island of Brijuni, which has been turned into a national park by now. But still, all of that costs money and last year, they even lost more than 1,000 € on the project, for which they partly take weeks off of their jobs. But they do it passionately and they do it well. Nikola, Elvis, Iris, Marta, Marina, Tibor, Marko, Oleg – you name them. They are all putting their lifeblood into it.
After the city leveled the DIY spot at the old glass factory where the screenings used to be, they take care of finding new locations in Fažana and Pula almost every year. Furthermore, they printed their festival program as a newspaper this year. Meanwhile, they at least receive some support. “We get money from the city and the Croatian Audiovisual Centre, but it’s tons of bureaucracy,” Nikola moans. But that they have gotten to this point, far away from any skateboarding epicenter, is like a miracle anyway. The festival emerged on a whim, he explains: “We were not thinking about a festival, we were just thinking about having a nice night, downloading some movies, and watching them in my friend’s beach bar. It was a gathering after the summer. We work all summer and don’t skate or hang out that much, so that should be a get-together.” They got hooked and wanted to push their scene. Nikola has always been annoyed how tours to Croatia usually only consider Zagreb or Split but never his region. On the other hand, it’s understandable. “Why would you come to a small town, where there’s nothing to skate? You need to create something to make people visit.” So they started creating. Marko has lived in Barcelona for a while, so he had some connections. And in the following year, they were able to show Format Perspective by Phil Evans because of that. That’s when it all started and the guys went on tour afterwards, where they met Aymeric among many others. He and a group from Slovenia have been the first foreign guests in 2013.
This year, a bunch of diverse crews get together and there are five world premiers. To cap it off, they show the Film Por Vida project by Jai Tanju, Connor Kammerer presents an interactive video installation, Taufek Asmarak came all the way from Singapore to exhibit his photos, and Nich Kunz presents photos from a trip which led him from San Francisco to Fažana last year. Richard Hart did some Zines just for the festival and Nick Sharratt from Palomino brought two suitcases containing a small selection from his huge stock to set up a pop-up store. Over the years, a lot of contacts and friendships have emerged and everybody can get involved. The program itself is put together rather spontaneously. Nikola barely watches any of the videos before the premiere. If he likes a trailer, he gives it a go. He trusts the filmmakers. Everybody here has the same mindset. “We primarily focus on independent films or films from companies that are not to blown up. I’m still lucky to have emails coming in from people that think alike and the people that are coming also do. The festival is evolving and growing in the same bubble. I still don’t have to deal with people that want me to run a video from a big brand. It’s an independent festival and the people that are into the festival are these types of skateboarders,” he verbalizes the core of the event.
Skateboarding has diversified even more than what the big online mail-order companies have to offer, but the people who got together here are cut from the same cloth. No energy drinks are given away here and you see shoes with the Swoosh cut off. They value good food and sunbathe at the beach instead of blasting trap music and carrying out bawling rituals of manhood. It’s a bunch of idealists coming together, who put months and years of work into projects revolving this little wooden toy. Who make a living doing whatsoever just to be able to express their love for skateboarding and develop new creative heights that are barely ever reached by the “big” videos anymore.
Here, what they’re doing is really valued and also, here in this small place somewhere on the coast of Istria, they earn the applause they deserve. Ultimately, after a couple of Rakijas at the bar in the local youth club Kasarna, whose leisure time facilities consist of a ping-pong table and a miniramp, everything melts into this big community. For Nikola, this is the best time at the festival – the beer after the screenings. Towards the end, I have to ask him what has been bugging me for a while: why the name Vladimir? John Magnusson apparently told him once that skaters work best when they’re swimming against the current. And that’s how they handle it here. They named the skateboard club, which acts as the organizer of the festival, after the famous Croatian writer August Šenoa and Vladimir is the name of one of his books. It’s as simple as that. “Skateboarders who reference writers only exist at this place,” I think and smile. It’s nice to be in the same bubble with people that think outside the box.
Find more from the festival here.