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Movie Review: I Am Thalente

Thalente Biyela in I AM THALENTE - Courtesy of Seed & SparkWhile not “comic” related when I heard the topic of the documentary I Am Thalente, I was intrigued to see what the film was really about and like. When you see the stills or the trailer, you might think I Am Thalente, is just another skating documentary. It is in many ways, peeling back the world of professional skate boarding, but it’s also a film with a social message.

I Am Thalente follows Thalente Biyela, a 17 year-old homeless skateboard prodigy in South Africa who catches the eye of the professional skate-world when a DIY video of him skating goes viral. A group of top pro-skaters and figures in the skate world, including Kenny Anderson and legend Tony Hawk, offer Thalente support and an opportunity to pursue his dream of skating and competing in the U.S, to rise about his circumstances and help him shape his own future.

Directed by Natalie Johns, who grew up in South Africa, this moving international portrait of a teenager struggles with his ambitions and the reality of living on the streets in South Africa. There’s highs and lows, success and failure, all framed within the world of skate boarding and stunning visuals of skate parks from South Africa to Los Angeles.

Thalente Biyela in I AM THALENTE - Courtesy of Seed & Spark(1)When I began to watch the documentary, I expected an international look at skate boarding with a focus on one particular teenager from South Africa, a documentary to show the international love of the sport. Instead, we learn Biyela is homeless… and then there’s a twist. One that creates urgency for his support system to do something. This sends Biyela on a journey to the United States where he’s thrown into the professional world of skate boarding.

The film does an excellent job of balancing between Biyela and the world he’s been put in. This isn’t a movie where you get slow motion video of skaters putting together amazing tricks. This is the film where you learn about sponsorships and what it means to make it and how to in the sport. And, while we learn all of that, we see Biyela struggle with what he wants to do and where he wants to go and the reality of it all.

In the end, the movie is one of hope. Where the love of a sport meets reality of having to make a living and choosing a life’s direction. While Biyela is taken through his journey, we’re brought along to see, and like Thalente, we as viewers are challenged to grow a little too.

This wasn’t what I was expecting. Instead I got to watch an uplifting and remarkable documentary.

Overall Rating: 8.05