Film Kitchen: Philosophy on Wheels | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Film Kitchen: Philosophy on Wheels

The suite of skateboarding videos Andrew Nelson collectively titles "Oathbreaker" opens with a montage of skaters falling, failing, blowing moves, getting hurt, and hurling their boards and bikes in frustration. But it's no bloopers reel (or not just a bloopers reel): Nelson says he based "Oathbreaker" on Jacques Derrida's book The Gift of Death, in which the late French philosopher explored our misunderstanding of sacrifice.

Often, what we call sacrifice is really a wager -- a struggle toward a possible payoff, like saving for a house. But "[a] sacrifice isn't a sacrifice if it comes with any sort of economy," says Nelson. To Nelson, 28, a longtime skater with a master's degree in literary and cultural studies from Carnegie Mellon, the parallels to skating are obvious. Anyone who perpetually courts injury -- from skinned palms to pile-driven ankles -- to perfect tricks only a handful of friends will see practices a form of devotion that is truly sacrificial.

Meanwhile, although everyone's existence comes at the expense of other life, people invariably view their own selfish actions as righteous, ignoring a fundamental paradox. "Love and destruction," summarizes Nelson on the DVD's cover, "are inseparable and immutable."

Nelson's weighty thoughts, and his skating comrades' gravity-defying stunts, are showcased at the April 8 installment of the Film Kitchen screening series. Also screening is a selection of mostly comic shorts by local filmmaker Matthew R. Day.

Nelson's skate-related enterprises include videotaping bouts for the Steel City Derby Demons Roller Derby league and building DIY skate spots around town. Most of the 38-minute "Oathbreaker" was shot in Pittsburgh, though it includes footage from a two-week road trip from upstate New York (where Nelson grew up) to New Orleans. Nelson took the trip last summer with five fellow skaters (including his older brother Derek) most of whom star in the video.

All the hard landings are meant to drive home a point: While skating might be a worthy activity, it's neither economical nor sustainable for its sore-jointed devotees. "It really in a lot of ways sacrifices itself," says Nelson. "It doesn't even maintain its commitment to itself."

Nelson has been scouring Pittsburgh for an empty industrial building to launch an indoor skatepark he'll call Moriah. Recently, one East Liberty property owner told Nelson that the park's business plan wouldn't work. Exactly, replied Nelson, who says he'd expect to be out of business in five years.

"I'm not doing it to have it be sustainable," he says. "I'm not looking at its growth potential."


Matthew R. Day makes short films, most of them comedic. Sometimes he stars, as in his "Xtreme" series ("Xtreme Jump Rope," etc.), in which he plays the stocky, track-suited "Earl Shackleford," whose special-effects menu gets more of a workout than he does. In "Political Attack Ads!," Day and his collaborators flex their parodic muscles with increasingly outlandish insults and warnings: "Don't let your freedom goose-step away!"

Day, 30, who works at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, has a lyrical side. His animated "Transform Into Beasts" video for local band Boca Chica is whimsical, and "Exit Europe Music Video" is an editing tour de force that packs a demi-continent of personality into 2.5 minutes. Still, the longest piece among the 13 that Day will screen April 8 is "Spooky Walk," a home movie about a drunken group search for a woodland ghost that's annotated with video "pop-ups." "More people have been killed by bees in one day than have been killed by ghosts ever," says one.


Film Kitchen 8 p.m. Tue., April 8 (7 p.m. reception). Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Ave., N. Oakland. $4. 412-681-5449 or

Film Kitchen: Philosophy on Wheels
Shedding by friction: from Andy Nelson's "Oathbreaker."

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