“WHEN I started out I wanted to make something that was very true to the skateboarding community in Ireland, but also something that everyone else would find interesting and would enjoy.”
Hill Street is a fascinating documentary film that looks at the phenomenon of skateboarding in Ireland from the 1980s onwards and its director JJ Rolfe is thrilled with the feedback that his energy-packed feature has been getting.
Many films have been made about the subculture of street skating in the United States, but Rolfe’s work is a fresh departure for Irish film and even features a contribution from the legendary skater Tony Hawk.
Hill Street itself is located in a tough part of inner city Dublin and was the location for the country’s first ever skateboarding shop, run by Clive Rowan, who is the focus of much of the film.
“Clive set up a bicycle shop in the 1970s and then in the 1980s he started getting into skateboarding equipment,” said Rolfe. “If you wanted a decent quality skateboard you had to go to Clive’s. That’s where it all kicked off really.
“He built little ramps outside the shop, just off O’Connell Street. He put the ramps outside it and everything just grew from there. He’s the father of skateboarding in Ireland.”
Rolfe describes Rowan as a “real character” (Dublin legend has it that he would keep a baseball bat under the counter to deal with any troublemakers in his shop) and says that the film wouldn’t have been as true to life as it is without his knowledge and input.
He added: “Clive is a fun guy. The only way to describe him is to say that Clive is Clive. He was very accommodating. If people want to go and talk about skateboarding he is the man to talk to. He still runs a place in Temple Bar. He was an absolute gentleman to work with.”
It has been a labour of love for Rolfe and his team, taking five years to complete, but he couldn’t be happier with the end product and is buzzing now at the prospect of the wider public getting to see it.
But filming people on skateboards brought fresh challenges for the 32-year-old Dublin-based film-maker.
He said: “We shot three new bespoke skate sequences for the film and that was a lot of fun. Shooting skateboarding is very different to shooting anything else. There are rules to it, like you have to always keep the person’s foot in and you have to show the landing.
“It was fun once you got your head around it because it was creative. We had great help from people in the skate community in Ireland. All I ever wanted to do was to tell the story and get it out there for people to see. If you make things, you live with them for a long time.
“At times you think that you are never really going to see the end where people are actually watching what you have put together.”
The film was made possible with help from the Irish Film Board, while Warrior Films are now on board as distributors, meaning that Hill Street will reach a wide audience.
Rolfe added: “In the beginning it was self-financed and then the Irish Film Board came in. At the start it was very much just us, me and Dave Leahy, so it was about five years in total that we worked on it. That was mainly because we had to go and work on other projects and jobs.
“We finished it completely last year. It has taken a lot of time to get it out there, but now that we are ready to go it is a brilliant feeling. The feedback so far has been very positive, from critics who have watched it to everyone who attended the cast and crew screening.
“They were all very happy with it and how it told the story. You always, always want to make something that is true to the people and I’m glad to say they were all very happy with it.”
But isn’t there a risk in making a film about such a niche sport in Ireland? Rolfe says that in itself was part of the challenge of Hill Street.
He added: “I think there’s enough there for everyone to take something from it. And there are plenty of laughs too… I mean there are plenty of people falling off skateboards. It’s a snapshot of Dublin in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It moves from the very beginning of skateboarding in Ireland to the present day.
“There’s nostalgic stuff in there too about Dublin and Ireland at those times, shots of Dublin that maybe people wouldn’t normally see. In some ways it’s a different take on how Dublin was back then.”
Rolfe and his team can now enjoy the glow being generated online by the rave reviews that Hill Street has been receiving, but he reserves his praise for the IFB for all they did to help him and his colleagues on the project.
He said: “The Irish Film Board were so supportive through the whole process. They were very helpful in getting us across the line with it. They have been brilliant in terms of us getting it out there for people to see.
“It’s a different film, looking at a different sport and how it grew from one little street in Dublin to across the whole of Ireland. I think people might be surprised when they watch it.”
Hill Street will be available on DVD and video-on-demand from June 2.