Long Beach native Brian Adamkiewicz exchanged his skateboard for a camera in his Cannes Film Festival prize-winning short documentary, “Build Ramps Not Walls.”
Adamkiewicz, 25, who graduated from Brooklyn Film College in 2016, took home the award for best student documentary earlier this month at the Emerging Filmmaker showcase in the festival’s American Pavilion.
Adamkiewicz, a 2010 graduate of Long Beach High School and Nassau BOCES Long Island High School for the Arts, said that winning the award was surreal.
The documentary, he said, was inspired by Nat, an 8-year-old Mexican-American boy who Adamkiewicz taught surfing and skateboarding at Long Beach’s Skudin Surf camp in 2016.
Nat’s family lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, but they visit Long Beach every summer, Adamkiewicz said. Following President Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the border during his political campaign, Nat had asked his mother, Rebecca Scotti, whether he would be able to return to New York the following year for more lessons.
Scotti, the executive producer of the film, came up with the idea for the film. She asked Adamkiewicz if he’d be interested in directing it in order to show Nat that something positive could come out of what Adamkiewicz called the negative anti-immigration election rhetoric.
Adamkiewicz brought a group of volunteers two years ago from the U.S. to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where they built a DIY skate ramp together with the Mexican skate community using the same materials that would be used to build a wall: sand, concrete, metal wire, metal frames, gravel and cinderblocks.
The result is a 13-minute film that follows a joint effort between residents of Puerto Vallarta and Adamkiewicz’s team to build not only a skateboard ramp, but also a skate community without borders.
Throughout the process, the team communicated through cultural and language barriers with messages of tolerance and a joint love of skating, Adamkiewicz said.
“I don’t speak fluent Spanish, but I can go [to Spanish-speaking countries], and skater-to-skater, it’s always cool,” he said. “There is no language barrier in skateboarding.”
Adamkiewicz and his production team learned that they were nominated for the Cannes award in March, just a month before the world premiere of the film in Puerto Vallarta.
“Just going there — we were nominated for the festival and that was the greatest opportunity,” said Adamkiewicz, who added that he enjoyed meeting locals in the skate community during the event.
After the festival, Adamkiewicz said that he and Scotti plan to continue the “Build Ramps Not Walls” project. The film’s success inspired them to take on two more projects. One, a feature film, follows some of the athletes they met in Mexico to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The other, a TV series, tells the story of how they built another skate ramp in Cuba.
Adamkiewicz said he hopes that his documentary shows people that when social and political efforts fail, skateboarding and other sports can bring people together.
“Create opportunities at home,” he said. “You can stay home and build something yourself. Do it yourself. Their hope is skateboarding.”