Interview: JJ Rolfe, director of ‘Hill Street’


Hill Street looks at the evolution of skateboarding culture in Ireland since the late 1980s and features, amongst others, the legendary skater Tony Hawk.

Film Ireland donned its helmet and did some varial kick flips with the film’s director JJ Rolfe.


What was your initial motivation behind making a documentary about the history of skateboarding in Dublin?

It started when I was working as a cinematographer with the producer of the film, Dave Leahy, on a couple of different short films that he was producing about 5 years ago. We talked about his idea for a film about Clive’s skate shop [Clive Rowen, the Dublin ‘Godfather of Skateboarding’] and it stayed with me. I wrote up a treatment and next thing I knew I was at a meeting where I was introduced as the director and it all kicked off.

What interested me was exploring a story about something that was very much counter culture at its origins and watching it become mainstream.
It was also interesting to me to have to employ a DIY approach to the making of the film that mimicked the skateboard movement itself

What was it about skateboarding at that particular time that made it a subculture in Dublin?

It’s something that we talk about a lot in the film. It is best summed up by some of the participants in that Dublin in the 1980s wasn’t a very friendly place for people who deviated from the percieved norm. Skating was undergoing something of a resurgence in the 1980s and so only existed in pockets around Dublin. What made a significant difference was the shop on Hill Street which coalesced the skaters as they found like-minded individuals

Can you tell us about how the film was funded?

At the begining of the project we were very much self financed and working on it in between other projects, which gave the shooting of it a slightly fragmented feel and certainly had Dave [Leahy] pulling his hair out. We completed the film to a 52-minute version that screened at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival in 2012 and received a special mention. After that the Irish Film Board approached us with an interest in extending the film to a full cinematic length and offered us funding. That funding was extremely helpful to complete the project to the level that both Dave and I had originally wanted on a practical level but also the feedback from the board was very useful by way of a sounding board for ideas and their experience of the next stages was extremely helpful, they were great throughout.

After an initial cut of the film you then went and shot in LA. What was the reasoning behind that decision?

The visit of Tony Hawk to Dublin had been somewhat a seminal moment in the history of skateboarding in Ireland and it had always been a goal to include his memories of the trip in the final film. The completion funding from the Film Board made all of this possible. I also felt that the original cut of the film lacked a little context in the world scene and the trip to LA also allowed us to focus in on this – in the place that was the birthplace of skateboarding.

The film is made up of a lot of footage of the shop and skateboarding from the 80s and 90s. How did you go about sourcing that and where did the majority of it come from?

We were extremely lucky when we started work on Hill Street that the community accepted us and were really very helpful. There is some great archive in the finished film that is all thanks to those links and the good spirit of the few members of the scene that brought cameras with them and shot what was in front of them keeping them tucked away in shoeboxes for the future. It got to a point where on the day before the final picture lock Dave got a phone call from somebody telling them about an old VHS tape they’d found with footage from outside the shop on Hill Street and we made space for it in the final cut!

How did you get to interview Tony Hawk?

Getting the Tony Hawk interview was a long process but very worthwhile. Tony is one of the world’s most recognizable skaters and, with that, is extremely busy. He still skates but spends most of his time engaged in charity work nowadays and is rarely in the same country for very long, so nailing him down to a specific time and place was tough. Thankfully, on the day of the interview he was good enough to bring us down to his rather large office block where Hawk Enterprises is headquartered and gave up a large part of his day to sit down and talk to us. Having him as part of the film is certainly an honour and really gives it legitimacy on a world stage.

Hill Street opens in select cinemas on 23rd May and will be available to buy worldwide on DVD/VOD through a dedicated website and via iTunes from 2nd June.


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