I Am Thalente

May 16, 2016

(Natalie Johns, United States, 2015, 80 min)

Seattle premiere!

I Am Thalente is a coming of age story that captures a three-year window of time in Thalente Biyela’s life as he transitions from teenager to young man, from living on the streets of South Africa to pursuing his dream of a career in skateboarding.
Thalente Biyela is about to turn 18 and needs to decide what to be when he ‘grows up’. Homeless since age nine, he is illiterate; his opportunities are limited. At age eight, his first skateboard becomes his escape from turmoil at home, giving him a way to express himself and access to a community of friends who become family. Skateboarding quickly becomes the driving force in his life, providing him sanctity from Durban street life. An internet video of Thalente skating reaches pro-skater Kenny Anderson who offers to take him under his wing if he makes it to America. Thalente puts his heart and soul to the test to transcend circumstance and shape his future.
At the core of Thalente’s story is his love of skateboarding and the role that pursuing this passion played in his life. It is the source of his confidence and humility; the board became his family and his future when he had none. The film explores the humanity that is the foundation of the global culture of skating, with Thalente Biyela as the living embodiment of the soul of the sport.
Director Natalie Johns, who grew up in South Africa herself, splices together the thrilling momentum of skate videography with the sensitive direction of a natural documentarian. She cites the Maysles Brothers and Wim Wenders as principal influences on her style of direction; these cinematic forebears celebrated the filmic roles of truth, honesty and intimacy in the portraiture of their characters, and their impact is clearly visible in I Am Thalente.
“I Am Thalente is an active, soul-searching and soul-affirming doc. It is one that doesn't exist in a passive fly-on-the-wall sense, with a hero that lives up to his namesake 100%.”
- Ben Umstead, Twitch
“Thalente is a charismatic, and relatable person who you want to root for because he works hard to master an art form that he is passionate about… [Natalie] Johns does a nice job of weaving the voices of the skateboarding community into the film, providing insight into a sport that is often misunderstood or seen as a teenage hobby.”
- Nilja Mumin, Indiewire’s “Shadow and Act”

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