Have you ever seen the documentary King of Kong? On the surface, it’s a portrayal of video game obsession but dig a millimetre deeper and you will find an almost biblical story of ‘overcoming the monster’. It’s the ultimate David and Goliath, set, remarkably, in the meta context of gaming culture.
All great documentaries show something universal in their unique case studies. All This Mayhem – the story of two Australian skateboarder brothers trying to break America – is one such great doc. The collaged epic – blending archive and new material for a dramatic effect – by Australian filmmaker Eddie Martin paints a picture of a specific period of skateboarding history, but, much more effectively, it tells the tale of brotherhood, the urgency of youth, and the tragedy of loss.
We caught up with Eddie to find out more.
What’s your background in documentary filmmaking?
This is my third doc. My first was a short observational documentary about an Australian graffiti artist. He wasn’t a very good artist but he embodied the spirit of a train bomber, I found that more interesting. I just picked up a camera and went for it. I am interested by subcultures that have carved their way into the suburbs. I also made a doc for TV on Australian sporting icon and indigenous boxer Lionel Rose and I cut a feature version, unfunded. I would have liked that film to be seen by a wider audience outside of Australia. Lionel was a huge sporting hero in his time but was sadly a little forgotten and blended into the suburbs towards the end. Australians can be harsh that way.
How were you introduced to the Pappas bros and why did you want to document them?
We were all sponsored by a skate shop called Snake Pit and were locals at the Prahran skate park in Melbourne, growing up in the early 1990s. I’ve known them since they were kids. They have always been larger than life characters. The idea of a film was spoken about, but I wasn’t sure the time was right. Then mutual friends approached me about doing the doc because someone else was trying to make an exploitive version of their story. We got motivated.
What were the challenges in presenting the Pappas’ story to a wider/non-skate audience?
The challenges are that people can instantly pigeonhole a film. They hear or see skateboarding and instantly think it’s not for them. They had the same problem with Senna and F1. I found it inspiring that they broke through with that film and found audiences that knew next to nothing about Formula One racing as well as the fanatics. Also skate aficionados want certain things that can alienate a broader audience. The challenge was finding that balance and putting the story of two brothers first.
Was it important to you to represent that period of time in skateboarding authentically?
Absolutely. You can’t fool skaters. I was there. People can relate to the period, a lot of the feedback we’ve had from audiences so far is that they knew some crazy cats like these guys, it’s nostalgic for some. The community is all about authenticity, they are are quick to sniff out anything otherwise. If we stuffed that up we had nothing.
How did you think the brothers were viewed in the skateboarding community? Do you hope the film changes/challenges any perceptions?
They were viewed as maniacs and at times they were. That is also part of what made them so great. But there is more to their story and their characters. They have a lot of heart. A lot of spirit. I’d like to think the film challenges peoples perceptions generally about judging people good or bad, we all have a story and motivations for our actions at certain times in our lives.
How has Tony Hawk’s feelings towards the brothers evolved over time?
I can’t comment on Hawk’s feelings. We approached him for an interview for the film but he declined.
What did you feel your responsibility to the Pappas brothers was?
To tell an authentic version of their story. Not to sensationalise it.
What was the most significant thing you learnt from the Pappas while making the film?
I was inspired by Tas’ fighting spirit. No matter what – never give up!
All This Mayhem will premiere at the BFI on Saturday June 7, followed by a Special Jury Award slot at Sheffield Doc/Fest June 8 and 10. It’s out in UK cinemas August 8. For more info visit the official Facebook page.