Pontus Alv has been intriguing underground skate fans for nearly a decade and a half now. When Mad Circle’s 5 Flavors video dropped in 1998 I had barely heard anything about the Swedish skater and, at the time, most Americans viewed European skaters with a doubtful eye. And in a video accompanied by Bobby Puleo, Scott Johnston and Rob Welsh it made it especially difficult to stand out. But still most skaters I knew at the time came away from the video feeling like Pontus’ part had made a really strong impression. Always skating at high speed, Pontus’ footage has always entertained me and kept me wanting to see more.
Roughly 7 years ago I was staying in London while working on ‘Static II’ and I ended up somehow eating dinner with Pontus and the rest of the Cliche team. While walking around afterward Pontus mentioned that he was in the middle of working on his own video. He told me that he didn’t want it to have annoying graphics and blown out production like the Adio video. “I hate that shit” he exclaimed to me. In his attempt to describe the rough look he wanted to achieve with his film he had inadvertently insulted the maker of the video he was referencing right to his face. I didn’t take it personally and actually pretty much agreed with him. But, feeling a tad awkward that he probably didn’t realize that I had made the Adio video I eventually admitted “Not that it matters to me, but I figured I should let you know that I actually did the Adio video”. He responded without missing a beat “Yeah I know…..that’s why I’m telling you”. You’ve gotta respect that kind of honesty.
A little while after returning to the states I started hearing little bits and pieces about his video that had recently dropped. After trying for a while to track down a copy I randomly saw it at a friends’ house much later and was absolutely shocked by the quality. Not only was the skating and filming pretty top notch but the video itself was a work of art.
So earlier this year I started hearing things from Vivien Feil about the new video Pontus was working on and knew that I had to make sure and get it onto the Theories site as soon as it dropped. Fortunately Vivien had just recently skated with Pontus in Sweden and he got me his email address. After a few short emails I offered to help get his video distributed in the US. I was really impressed by his response, basically telling me that the most important thing to him was that the video didn’t get blown out and remained a bit difficult to get ahold of. I thought that was really rad. After handling getting the videos exported from Sweden to NY, I asked him if we could do a “short” interview. But after I got a chance to see his video my list of questions grew 3 fold. The following mass of text is the interview that ensued. Enjoy.
I don’t know if you remember but you and I met a long time ago in London. You were traveling with Cliche and we all ate dinner together one night where you told me you were working on your own video. That ended up becoming the “Strongest of The Strange” video. How was it making your first video on your own? Was there a tough learning curve?
Yeah I remember that trip it was probably in 2003, it was my last trip with Cliché. I quit the company during that tour. I just had enough of it all. So after that I return to Malmö to my home base. I never really planned on making a film, things just happened by itself. I started to film my friends and the things that was going on around here in my town and in my life. My main goal with the film was to define what skateboarding means and is for me. For once in my career I wanted to show people who I really am and what I believe and stand for. All my past video parts before strongest never showed me. It showed me through the image and eyes of a company. I always felt like I worked so hard with my skating but when I saw the final result in the end I always felt like there were things missing. So this is why I decided to make my first film to show my beliefs and my ideas of what skateboard is and isn´t for me. Well to make a film can be very easy or it can be the hardest thing ever. It all depends on what kind of movie you wanna make. For me the learning curve was fun and hard, I had collected material for about 5 years and I had never edited anything before that in my life but I had an idea and a vision and the technical side isn´t very hard. You have a timeline with clips and sounds…I use really basic techniques when it comes to editing. I try to do my films through the camera and images. If you have good material the editing is easier. My main thing is color correction, I love doing that. I don´t even know how to do a ramped slo-motion for example.
What inspired you to just do it alone and make your own videos?
To have the freedom to do whatever the hell I want. To show whatever I want and use whatever I want. If I want to be naked in my films I can be If I want to show a corpse I can etc. I love this freedom and I love to express my ideas without compromising. And like I said above to be able to show who I really am and what I stand for.
What do you think about the video market these days? Is there much out there that you enjoy watching or are inspired by?
Most films that are released are company videos. These videos show the team doing their very best. These video are mostly about tricks hammers and bangers connected to the companies ideas and image. Sometimes there can be sections that really comes through. For example Lance Mountains part in the last FLIP film was great but the rest of the film felt really flat. Today there are so many good skateboarders doing the latest tricks, every week there is a new wonderkid doing all the right and latest bangers. Sure it is amazing but where is the feeling? So in general I am not very interested in companies videos that present the latest trick report. For me skateboarding is so much deeper and complex than just tricks. As a skateboarder we are dealing with so many different subjects, friendships, architecture, searching for spots dealing with people, ups and downs in life and so on. I want to show everything in life. In my cause I mix in my personal history and other things I am into. All the things in life matter for the way we express ourself on a skateboard. If you feel down or you are heartbroken or depressed it will effect the way you skate and express yourself. So why only show the skateboarding and not all the other things in life that matters for our skateboarding.
I still check out some skateboard films but it´s not very often that I get excited about it. Most of the time I just get depressed and a headache and the feeling that I never want to stand on a skateboard ever again. It happens here and there that I see a little clip of for example Gonz. He always makes me smile.
What would you say was the last video you saw that really got you sparked and excited to skate?
Parts of Mind field gave me that feeling. I think they are doing a great job and there are great moments in their films but it´s still a company video and they are made to promote a team a brand and a image. This sometimes limits the possibilities of what you can do and not. You are still limited to a team and the specific riders and sometimes the “redline” through out the film gets lost. It is hard to see a redline between Omar - Rob D - Heath K to Steve Berra skating. They are all very different characters and skaters and skate very different from each other. The redline is that they ride for the same company but the skating or spots doesn´t connect them together. I still think it is all very well done but I personally like films that have a strict line up skaters/skating/spots and a concept to it all. A good example would be Dan Wolfe and the Eastern Exposure films. These films document a place, a time and a scene. The concept is easy and strict. East coast skaters, east coast spots and of course east coast skateboarding style. Simple and perfect. There are other examples as well the first Stereo film documented a time and a style in SF. Cruising hills filmed with loads of super 8 simple classic skating to jazz music. They had an idea and a concept for what the film will be about and they stuck with it from A to B. I like this.
So you were born and raised in Malmo, Sweden? What was the scene like there growing up? Were there many skaters around when you were a kid?
This place was a dead industrial city in the 90’s. We didn´t have much to skate and we had to deal with it. Long cold winters and crappy crusty spots. But I believe that less is more, it made us think and use our environment differently. East coast skating and Malmö skating is very similar we deal with the same problems. It is interesting how the architecture shapes skateboarders and the other way around. But anyway the scene was small and dead in the 90’s, a small group of old friends sticking together through the hard years. But we grew up and we got organized started a skateboard community and slowly things started to happen for us. We started with a indoor miniramp in a classroom then moved on to a huge indoor park then moved on to three outdoor concreteparks. Today Malmö is one of the main skate cities in europe but all of comes from having nothing and working hard. We are a still the same small group of people making things happen around here, we all work for our scene in our own different fields.
You tried out the American “California Dream” a long time ago…..how did it compare skating in California compared to back home?
The dream was better than the reality. There is nothing like home and skating with the people you grew up with. This can never be replaced but It was great to try out California to see what it was all about. It was great times and horrible lonely times but in the end it wasn´t for me. When something you love doing becomes a job with rules and pressure and thing you have to do, it takes away all the things you loved about it.
It seemed for the longest time that it was impossible for European skaters to get seen or respected on a global scale without riding for an American company. The only way we’d see Europeans was in 411 “World Report” sections set to awful music and converted PAL footage. Would you say that companies like Blueprint and Cliche helped to bring more attention and respect to the European scene?
For a long time skateboaring industry was 100 percent about California but today skateboarding is global. 10 years ago Europe wasn´t very hot but today it seems like it is the place to be. From eurothrash to paradise. Cliches first film, Blueprint videos as well as Fred´s ES “Menikmati” really put Europe on the map. This happened at the same time as the skatestopper revolution in California. Well things just seem easier in Europe in many ways.
Well, based on what I’ve seen it appears that you just decided that if there was something worth complaining about that you might as well take matters into your own hands and do something about it. That seems to almost be a major theme if the new video. Would you agree?
If you want something in life make it happen. Work hard and all the things you dream of can be yours. We had nothing around here and now we almost have too much. So yeah the main theme is do it yourself, make things happen. We go through ups and downs but we still have to keep living and dreaming no matter what. We can´t just give up, build a place and they tear it down so what. Just build another one it is fun. I kind of like being bulldozed these days cause it naturally forced you to make something new. So like this you get new spots to skate all the time. Oh yes, so I agree.
So, I received “In Search of The Miraculous” today and watched it immediately. And, my first thought as the credits rolled was that I have as many questions as I do compliments. The video features an eclectic mix of skaters. Most of them I assume are Swedish but are some from other countries as well?
Yes, Eniz Fazliov is from Finland and Michal Juras is from Poland then there are a big mix of skaters from europe. We have Javier and txus from the Basque country, Scott Bourne from USA/Paris.
I’m one of the worst critics out there. I’m bored with about 95% of skaters’ styles these days. But every skater you featured in this video had a dope style. Could you tell us the full line of of full parts?
Eniz Fazliov, Günes Özdogan, Michal Juras, Daniel Håkansson, Love Eneroth, Daniel Stankovic, Johan-Linö Waad and myself. And then there are small little sections with small miniparts like Javier and Scott B.
They all seemed like they’d been skating a really long time. How did you choose the dudes that to have full parts?
They are all good nice guys and my friends. I don´t really pick out skaters it all comes naturally. People come to malmö hang out with me, we go for sessions and things start to happen and we get to know each other. Then after a while some guys have more footage than others and it kind of turns into working on a part. But we don´t work and go on crazy missions we go on skatemissions but they are very laid back and they are all about having fun and a good time. Sometimes we go for skating and we end up eating ice cream and drinking coffee all day. Good skating comes when it comes, when the spirit is right the moment is there the spot is there and so on. It just happens when it happens and I don´t push it or force it. I just tag along and skate with the boys…
Was most of the filming done in Sweden or is there stuff from other countries as well? The spots were amazing! And I don’t think there was a single spot in there I’d seen before.
I try to film as much as possible in and around Malmö to give the film the Malmö look and aesthetics. 75 percent was filmed around here then most of Eniz stuff is filmed in Finland and Juras part is mostly filmed in Warsaw and so on. I really only try to show one spot once or twice, unless the part is about a spot. I think this is really important to have fresh new spots all the time. I really don´t like videos where every guy in each part skates all the same spots but just different tricks. It takes away a lot of the excitement and the movie is not moving forward it just stands still. For me the style of the architecture is really important, I really want it to look crusty and rugged cause that is what we skate around here. I had some good tricks from other places but they just didn´t fit in with my concept. It is important to have a strict redline and stick with your concept. Architecture is a very important element to make the movie feel like one piece. Skateboarding style is another important element, music and so on.
When I was watching the video I couldn’t help but start taking mental notes of who I assumed were some of your influences. I could see a strong influence of the Alien Workshop “Memory Screen” video in there and a slight H-Street Mike Ternasky nuances as well. But I was pretty sure I even saw some Stacey Peralta “Ban This” influence as well. Would you agree with those observations or am I way off?
Yeah for sure all those films are a part of my history, I grew up with them and for sure there are inside of me. I still think some of the best videos was made in during this time. They made me want to go skate and I still get very fired up from them. They have a energy that still works today. It´s amazing. Timeless stuff.
Haha….maybe I’m way off but I thought that was pretty sick. I was raised on early H-Street and Powell videos and I felt like I had a few flashbacks while watching this video.
That is a very nice comment thank you very much. I was raised on the same videos and I know what kind of feeling you are talking about. If my video can give someone that feeling it is a great thing. I want people to watch my video and get stoked and fired up. Like they just have to jump out of the couch and just attack whatever. Grab their board and start attacking things right outside there door. Start building things and so on.
So did most of the filming for this video as well? How much of the footage that isn’t of you would you say you filmed?
I would say 75 percent of the film is filmed by me. My friend Kuba filmed most of Michal Juras part, Eniz part was mostly film by Anssi and Termu from Finland. 100 percent is done by me when it comes to the editing and postproduction and music choice. My friend Johan did three songs specially for the film. And my other friend Martin helped me out with the DVD production and some high tech stuff.
Wow, I had no idea you filmed most of the video. How’d you develop such skills in so little time? Or have you been filming for longer than I think?
Well this is my second film and I have been filming for almost 10 years now. In my first film I wasn´t so serious about it I just did it. But the more you edit you realize that with good filming, good compositions and interesting content is where it is all about. This is your base that you later on can make something good in the editing. But I also want to say that perfect clean good filming is not always the best, it can get very stiff. Sometimes shaky sketchy filming is better than clean filming, same as sketchy quality can be better than clean quality etc. I really like the mix and I try to find a good balance between it all. From sketchy super 8 to clean super 8 to vhs to mini DV to hd etc.
As far as the art direction is concerned there were some subtle special effects going on here and there…..I noticed a credit at the end for an artist named “Mr. Klez”? Who was he and what exactly did he do for the video?
Oh Mr Klez. Yeah he is the art director of everything. Mr Klez is just an alter ego. He lives inside of me somewhere.
Is there any special significance of the hot air balloons?
It comes from my childhood, we used to send out these helium gas ballons with drawings and messages. I really like the idea of that. That you send something out into the unknown. We don´t know where they will end up, who will find it someday, will they ever be found or are they still out there lost in the air or perhaps in space. I think it is very romantic and dreamlike.
It seems that these videos are highly personal for you….would you say it’s a form of therapy for you when making them?
Yes I would say so. I travel back into my childhood and I try to feel and remember it. It somehow bring them back to life for a short moment or I like to pretend so. I sometimes go so deep into the images that it sometimes feels like I am there again or they are here again. I think that is an amazing thing with editing, It is my way of meditation.
Your videos have taken a few risks here and there. But I think it’s helped create a uniquely personal experience that is really rare in skateboarding these days. Did any of the skaters in the video freak out at the premiere when they saw you standing naked on the screen in front of the world?
How could anyone freak out over a naked man? A nude body is not a UFO or is it? No one freaked out as far as I know.
Haha…..well, skate videos have become so formulaic these days that I can’t be more relieved to see such a unique film hit the streets as “In Search of The Miraculous”. What would you like to see come of this video? I know you told me you didn’t really want to see it to be too easy to get ahold of. Would you prefer it to stay kind of underground?
Well I don´t wanna pump it out with massive distributors and just turn it into a money pumping product. I have my site and I really like to have this personal contact with the people that are into it. I sign every copy and lick every envelop. It feels good. It is small and personal and I like it this way. I try to pump it out as much as I can but It will only be pumped by me or the people that approve. For example you which I think is a great forum for my film to be in. It is in good hands with good people like this it is very okay.
This video is going to do a lot for Swedish skateboarding. I can’t believe how sick the skaters in this video are and how many ill spots you guys have. Does it make you proud to watch it and see all of these dudes getting noticed by the rest of the world?
Something that makes me proud is when my work inspires other that inspire themselves. When people send me pictures of DIY spots they build cause they saw my films and they got the motivation and energy from them. That makes me proud and it feels like I am giving something back to skateboarding which is my main goal. To give back and inspire skateboarders from all over the world to make their own skateboard scene a better place. It call all be done with some bricks and cement bags. A DIY project is more than a spot it brings people together and it makes the scene stronger. A social sculpture.
Well, I want to thank you for putting so much effort into this video and for treating us all to such sick skateboarding. Do you have any plans for anything else in the future or are you gonna take a break for a while and just skate?
Future plans…Keep doing what I do here in Malmö over and over again with the people I like. I would like to start a little company doing random things. Boards shirts books magazines music etc. Build up a little platform where I can give all my ideas a good home. Continue working with the film format in someway I don´t think I will do another 5 year project. Would like to work on smaller things but who knows. nobody know what the future holds. We just have to wait and see but keep dreaming and work hard.