Highway Gospel succeeds very well at managing to inform, excite, and connect with somebody like me who’s completely ignorant of skateboarding and skateboarding culture. It introduces us to a whole host of interesting people; from Bricin whose utter passion for the sport is made unmistakably clear in his extremely vibrant longboard downhill racing announcements, to the identifiable and inspiring Claude Regnier, whose battle to continue with skateboarding, as a participant and as a teacher, is fought on both financial and health grounds. Many people that we meet are so extreme that a documentary could run the risk of making them out as mere characters; however, Highway Gospel puts flesh and blood into them, in part due to the hands off approach that it takes, but also because it has the ability to honestly convey the fervour that they have for their lifestyle without falling back on cheap tricks or trying to tell us what to think.
It may be a little bewildering at first for the uninitiated such as myself, but very quickly skateboarding culture is transformed from a foreign and unreadable phenomena, and into a thriving and involving community. Over the course of the film I felt that I was getting to know these people, befriending them, feeling for them, and I felt a part of both the celebrations and the struggles that they go though almost as if I was there. Regnier provides the strongest emotional story that we follow, he appears unguarded and honest as he details the impact that recurrent health problems and open heart surgery has had on his life and his passion. We follow him through a trying phase in his life; on top of his health issues he has to deal with the potential closure of the skate park which he runs and teaches children at. On top of that he is also constantly training for upcoming competitions and fighting off remarks that he is perhaps too old to continue skating. There’s enough material here for an entire film and he was for me the most affecting and exciting person to watch.
Still, the film doesn’t want to focus on any one place or account, and it excellently navigates between a considerable number of moments, stories, and views on the sport in order to keep us informed and interested. We are kept consistently entertained by the devotion and fun that permeates through the entire of the skateboarding culture as we are shown here. I don’t want to sound ignorant and claim to understand the love and passion that these guys have for their lifestyle, I don’t know that, I haven’t even so much as picked up a board in my life. But this documentary made me feel that I did, at least for a short while I felt wrapped up in that culture, and that’s a pretty fantastic achievement. I strongly recommend this debut documentary by Jaret Belliveau and Craig Jackson, they have managed to produce an exciting and thrilling documentary that’s left me somewhat humbled; no longer will I think of skateboarders as purely being nuisances on the road, I have tasted a very little of the love that they hold for the experience, and I can’t easily write that off.