I feel lucky. Sometimes, very cool things come through my inbox. Like Janwaar, from filmmaker Danny Schmidt, a short, beautifully filmed documentary on a skatepark’s gigantic impact on a small village in India.
Schmidt, who’s based in Salt Lake City and grew up skating, heard about the park in 2018. “I was immediately intrigued,” he told us. “Skateboarding was changing lives in this tiny far-off place. I wasn’t surprised necessarily – skateboarding changed my life too when I wasn’t much older than these kids – but I did think it was a story that the world should know about.”
Janwaar is a village in Madhya Pradesh, a rural state in central India where people still live a traditional Indian lifestyle, hours away – and worlds for that matter – from the capital of New Delhi. The skatepark, dubbed Janwaar Castle, was created in 2015, in part by Ulrike Reinhard, a 54-year-old German community activist and author. She says it was inspired by the Skateistan project, a charity that created a park for Afghanistan street children.
“I asked artists across the world to make us artboards (out of skate decks),” she recently told Mashable. “And we got 19 of them, including one by the Chinese activist and artist Ai Weiwei. We auctioned them on eBay through skate-aid and raised $16,000, just enough to build the skate park. An architect friend from Germany came to help us build the park.” Reinhard also worked to get the donations for decks, trucks and equipment for the young skaters.
And the impact has been improbable if not fantastic. As Schmidt deftly tells in the gorgeous doc, the villagers give the park an almost confusing reverence: the old guard doesn’t really understand skateboarding, but they can see its athletic, it keeps their broods occupied, and it creates happiness, something we need more than ever these days.
“My only hope for audiences watching the film is to feel something positive,” Schmidt says, “to see the smiles on the faces of the kids and feel that infectious happiness themselves. Our world is full of stories and documentaries that leave you feeling hopeless, and I just wanted to tell a story that offered something different, if only for 10 minutes or so.”
Find out more about Janwaar Castle and other skatepark projects at Rural-changemakers.com