Year of the Dragon

Hobey Echlin

When filmmaker Tristan Patterson met skater Josh "Skreech" Sandoval at a punk party in Chino, CA, during the spring of 2009, each was having a pretty shit year. Patterson had seen his writer-directorial debut (the still-unmade Electric Slide) slip into developmental purgatory while Skreech was a recently-divorced new dad, depressed and destitute, bouncing between skate spots and parties. Looking for a project, Patterson recalls, "where I didn't have to ask permission to do anything," he approached Skreech about making a documentary. As Skreech, now 23, remembers it, "I was like, 'Just buy beer, and me and my friends'll figure it out.'" After a year of filming and another editing down over 100 hours of footage -- 15 shot by Skreech himself -- the resulting Dragonslayer is the Donnie Darko of documentaries: cogent and atmospheric, charismatic and elliptical, shot with a beery, stale amber warmth.

Patterson's photography matter-of-factly frames Inland Empire decay one abandoned pool, drive-in theater and random skate competition at a time, without overwhelming our sense of the tender chaos of the skating wunderkind's life -- retching during a session in one scene, calling his ex-wife to figure out how to unfold his son's stroller on his first solo dad outing, referring to living in a tent in a backyard as "phat" without a trace of irony. Add a contemporary soundtrack (Best Coast, Jacuzzi Boys, Dungen, etc.) and minimalist four-track score by composer T. Griffin, and the film succeeds in creating a new kind of portrait of Cali youth as informed by YouTube as it is by Larry Clark and Dogtown and Z-Boys; simultaneously experimental and formalist without feeling forced. Patterson credits his subject: "Skreech sort of stumbled on this whole landscape of decay. He's the ultimate location scout-- and the perfect protagonist for this world."

"I let myself be pretty ignorant the whole time, I didn't know if I'd come off all emo or just say stupid shit," adds Skreech, admitting Dragonslayer depicts a pretty dragon-filled year of his life. He does have one correction to make: though he listens to the Germs in the movie and learned to skate to the Adolescents in Fullerton, "what I really love is that first generation New York junkie shit --  Johnny Thunders is the shit."

Dragonslayer opens in Los Angeles and New York on November 4th.

Subscribe to Get More