Jessica Edwards uses her broad background in the film industry as a director, producer and publicist to create and support storytelling. Her award-winning debut short Seltzer Works premiered at SxSW and was broadcast on the PBS series POV in 2010. Her other documentary shorts, including Tugs (2011), The Landfill (2012) and Slowerblack (2017), have screened at film festivals around the world including Sundance, SxSW, Hot Docs, Full Frame, IDFA and dozens of others.
Edwards’ debut feature-length documentary, Mavis!, about soul music legend Mavis Staples and her family group The Staple Singers, premiered on HBO in 2016 and was released in over a dozen countries worldwide. She was awarded a Peabody for distinguished achievement in documentary filmmaking in 2017.
Her current film Skate Dreams, about the rise of women’s skateboarding premiered at SxSW and has screened at festivals including DocNYC, Woodstock, Nantucket, Full Frame and others. It will be available to stream world-wide in 2023.
Edwards holds a MA in Media Studies from The New School in New York City and a BA in Cinema Studies from Montréal’s Concordia University in her native Canada. She lives and works in the Hudson Valley, NY with her partner and daughter.
(Photo Credit: Ebru Yildiz)
Jessica Edwards is a New York-based Peabody Award-winning documentarian; Arianna Gil and Sarah Snider are members of the NYC skate collective Brujas. Jessica’s latest film is Skate Dreams, a documentary about the rise of women’s skateboarding. The doc was partially scored by members of Brujas — including Arianna and Sarah — so to celebrate its release, the three had a chat about the collaboration, the role of music in skate culture, and more. Skate Dreams is out now.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music
Jessica Edwards: As a director and self-confessed skateboarding neophyte, it was essential that I have collaborators on the project who would feel ownership over the story. When I approached you to contribute to the music, why did you agree to the project?
Arianna Gil: I’ve always dreamed of working on a film soundtrack, so this was a dream come true! I was referred for the project because of my work in NYC as a DJ and event promoter and my connection to the skate scene. BRUJAS has booked some of the biggest names in women’s alternative music and rap, including Yaeji, Cardi B, Young MA, and Maliibu Miitch. I started booking artists when I was at Oberlin, thanks to a peer of mine named Sam Brown who mentored me and taught me the ropes of show production. We booked Los Rakas, Princess Nokia, and Mokaad Nokia. Spencer Murphy from Mokaad supported me as a musician in so many ways. You get what you give, it’s pretty cool to see how things have developed.
Sarah Snider: Same. Ari and I have been collaborating musically for many years on Brujas stuff, so it made total sense.
Jessica: Music is so much a part of what Brujas creates and enables — I’m thinking about Radio Bonita and some of your other initiatives. Where does skateboarding connect to music for you all? Why is music important to skateboarding culture overall?
Arianna: I love to skate while listening to music. I love to produce music elements for our skate events. Last year I learned how to officially permit an NYC public park for an event, including a sound permit, which is harder than you think! I documented the entire process so it’s easy to understand in case any other Brujas members or skaters in New York want to throw a legal event. We have a lot of resources available; how-tos and resource guides exist in all our zines. We have plugs on several different size sound systems, generators, DJ equipment, etc. The idea is that we get to power the outdoors and keep the energy fresh in parks, the sound is usually full of “urban” classics and on top of the fresh sounds as well. People can skate together with the same soundtrack at our events so in a way, this keeps our skate community together.
The Brujas radio station Radio Bonita has produced sound for events in The Bronx, for Harold Hunter Day… recently we did Zumiez’s More Than Rolling. One of the curatorial strategies we use at Radio Bonita is to mix a range of experiences, we can have young girls maybe 16 doing their first sets off their phones, then have a really experienced DJ like Lil Ze. We even got to do a skatepark party with the late Virgil Abloh. Hosting GHE20G0TH1K in 2016 taught us so much about how a diverse lineup can really work together to rock a party. Being able to rock sound outside means claiming that space, similar to how skateboarding claims public space for the people.
Music and skateboarding are both just expressions of the body and mind, there really isn’t that much of a difference between the forms. What is different is the way they are organized for groups and audiences. A skate crew that forms a band negotiates collective and individual contributions. Sometimes when working on the Brujas business side of things we use the metaphor for trying to land a “trick” as a way to understand when it was somebody’s time to shine. I always like the feeling of having people encourage me when I try to land something. That’s an important element of skating with your friends, and crucial to making music together.
Sarah: Also I think music has always been an important element of skate videos, so when Ari and I have worked on music together for various Brujas video projects it has naturally followed in the footsteps of that vibe. Just with a more collective energy.
Jessica: One of the challenges we had with making the film was how skateboarding isn’t one thing to one person. Every skater has their own story. What does skating look like to Brujas?
Arianna: With skating, you have street missions and you have parks and meet-ups. I really only go to skate events that are more of a community gathering, where there’s music and food, not like contests or anything. So don’t skimp on that side if you’re organizing something for skaters!
Brujas literally started because we didn’t feel included in Casino Skateshop’s video part filming in the summer of 2014. Love them still. There were a couple of other art movements we were connected to that also didn’t feel spacious enough. So we started filming on our own. Park meet-ups are straight 157 in the Bronx and Bronx Courthouse, LES skatepark, and Tompkins.
Jessica: We try really hard in the film to portray the culture of skating, not just the sponsorship/contest/business side. And it seems like most of that is happening in NYC
Arianna: True — NYC is all about the culture, it’s kind of becoming a trope nowadays. I don’t really understand what culture is in a theoretic framework. Is it an act of collective psychology? Is it defined by people and their art? The materialism of day-to-day life, the types of food people access, or the price of utilities, housing, and health services? All those things define culture too. Poor people’s culture has a deep essence of survival that is attractive to many people with means so it’s appropriated for aesthetic appeal. A good amount of NYC skaters are poor or come from working-class backgrounds and are grounded by the cost of living in NYC. That means they have to produce generally useless, unskilled services that make other people wealthy. Resisting that, finding something else to do instead, is something I support. Eventually many are exhausted by the precarity of a skateboarding lifestyle and go work for the elite, but some really take the opportunity to do their own thing. I hope Brujas can continue to inspire people to think outside the box.
Access to the Brujas’ zines is available to all BRUJAS WORLD SYNDICATE members — to join, check out www.brujasworldsyndicate.com.
Skate Dreams is available to rent and own on Vimeo, Apple TV, Amazon Video, Google Play, Xbox and other platforms around the world.