Woolf Women

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Five young women head to Turkey with their skateboards in this documentary taking a tour of the Generation Z zeitgeist.

Before we go any further, they refer to each other as “girls”, which I know is not everyone’s favourite term for young women, ladies, females – none of them sound quite right. Lass, chick, dame?

Something else that doesn’t sound right is the sound coming out of the mouth of German professional downhill skater (and co-director) Jennifer “Jungle” Schauerte, who we see in opening footage hurtling down a road at a hell of a speed, the helmetcam catching the dizzying, exhilarating descent before she slams into a crash barrier and starts screaming.

She’s broken her leg, very badly, right up near where the femur is heftiest, near the hip, and needs screws, coils, a handful of operations before she can get back on her feet. Eight months before you get on a board again, say the doctors. Jennifer, gritting her teeth, does it in ten weeks. She’s a gritting-your-teeth and toughing-it-out kind of person.

And then we’re off with Jennifer and her pals on a long road trip across Europe in beat-up vans to Sumela in Turkey, a spectacular monastery high in the Pontic Alps to a) skateboard down a precipitous road and b) light a candle to Jennifer’s dad, who died suddenly two years earlier while out mountain-biking – she gets her intrepid edge from him, she says.

So, for drama it’s the will-they/won’t-they jeopardy aspect; for emotional pull-through, it’s Jennifer’s reckoning with her father’s memory. The film, having introduced both elements early on, doesn’t seem that concerned with overdoing either of them, probably wisely, since both of these angles have been overworked in documentaries as well as countless TV shows.

Instead we get a road trip with this lithe, tough, sparky fivesome – Jennifer, plus “Jazzy” Jasmine Hanegraef, Lisa Peters, Anna Pixner and Alejandra Salamandra – which doubles as a tour of their headspace. When they’re not hurtling down hills at speed, they discuss the despoliation of nature (they pick up other people’s rubbish), niggle about authenticity and worry about global warming.

At one point they take a break to listen to a lecture on the use of the OrganiCup (a re-usable alternative to tampons) by Valeria Kechichian of Longboard Women United. Valeria, like them, exudes a wholesome energy and engagement with the world that is refreshing. And even though I didn’t entirely buy every aspect of the right-on package (but then I am a cynical old dude), the youthful optimism is infectious.

Where did the girls get the money from for this trip? How come they’re not working? The film does not go there, or into much about their personal lives, apart from Jennifer’s, but it does go into co-director Marchella de Angelis’s office for some unusual interlinking scenes consisting of straightforward “coming up next” intros, slightly stilted interviews with Jennifer, or Marchella’s philosophising on the bigger picture. I didn’t entirely buy Marcella’s musings either, but these scenes chez Marchella are at least a noble attempt to try something different.

Which this film is anyway, thanks to the genuinely likeable girls, some remarkable scenery high up in the Turkish mountains – I had no idea the country could be so alpine – and the sparing use of drone footage to deliver wow moments, particularly of the monastery, which was founded about 1,700 years ago and is fixed to the sheer rock face by something even mightier than girl power.

© Steve Morrissey 2020

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