Documentary About Pacific Beach Rollerblader Screens At Festival
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Aired 10/3/13 on KPBS News.
One of the films screening at the San Diego Film Festival features Slomo, a colorful skating enthusiast who spends his days rollerblading along Pacific Beach.
If you’ve ever walked the boardwalk in Pacific Beach, you’ve probably seen Slomo.
He skates there every day – arms outstretched, gliding on one leg, the other lifted behind him. He's often grinning and listening to music as he weaves in and out of the crowds. It looks like he’s skating in slow motion, which is how he got the nickname "Slomo."
He used to be Dr. John Kitchin, a hardworking neurologist who made a lot of money, which he spent on things like a BMW, a Ferrari, and an exotic animal farm. "I lived in a mansion," he explains in a new documentary short chronicling his life and love of skating. It's simply titled "Slomo." Joshua Izenberg directed the film after his father told him about Kitchin's transformation into Slomo. They'd gone to medical school together.
Despite all his wealth, Kitchin felt empty. After a failed marriage and a health scare, he walked away from it all. He said to himself: "Why don’t I just cash it in and start a whole new life?" He decided to be a completely different person. That was 1998. He moved to Pacific Beach and a studio apartment. He bought rollerblades and started to skate. "Every night I just went back to it like it was some sort of religious thing," he says in the film.
Kitchin is now 69. He's fully embraced his nickname and hasn't stopped skating. As Slomo, he's become known for that signature balancing move on one leg, arms spread like wings. "I think what I’m doing, with all due modesty, is a type of flying," Slomo told the filmmakers.
The film includes stunning footage of Slomo skating. Amanda Micheli produced "Slomo," and says the crew had to get creative during the shoot. As Slomo skated, the cameraman shot on rollerblades behind him, and Izenberg, the director, was on a skateboard recording sound. "So it was sort of like this little caboose, going down the boardwalk," explained Micheli by phone from San Francisco. "It was much more fitting with Slomo to have these three guys moving together in an organic way."
As they skated, passersby would give Slomo high-fives and call out his name. "The people that love Slomo are cheering for one person that got away and got to real freedom where he skates all day," Slomo explains in the film.
Micheli says she and Izenberg are both interested in older characters. "So many of the people we see on screen are young, but it's nice to see something different." One of the remarkable aspects of the film is the difference between the Slomo we see in interviews and the familiar character, some might say San Diego legend, we see skating the boardwalk. The man in the interviews is articulate, thoughtful and philosophical about life and the choices he's made. As he steps into skates and onto the boardwalk as Slomo, he's someone altogether different, more visceral and otherworldly. People along the boardwalk are interviewed in the film speculating about Slomo's background. One guesses he's a Vietnam veteran; another thinks he's homeless.
The film won a best documentary prize at Austin's South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival, which makes it eligible to be nominated for an Oscar in the documentary shorts category. Micheli says fingers are crossed, but that's a ways off. Right now, they're just trying to build an audience for the film.
Slomo and some of the crew will be on the boardwalk in Pacific Beach this Saturday promoting the film. "SLOMO" screens Sunday as part of the San Diego Film Festival. Dr. John Kitchin, aka "Slomo" will be in attendance to answer questions.