Whether Truth or Fiction, This Ain’t California Is Engrossing


Martin Persiel’s splendid “documentary” could well be subtitled “And It Ain’t the Truth.” After having swept awards on the film festival circuit last year (including the Berlinale’s Dialogue en Perspective prize for young filmmakers), the nonfiction This Ain’t California was reveled to have a healthy dose of fiction in it after all—and most of the old skateboarding footage of the film’s central figure, the late Denis “Panik” Paraceck, was actually that of skateboarder/model Kai Hillebrandt. Oh, and Paraceck never existed. That’s just the tip of Persiel’s manipulation of both reality and the very definition of “documentary.” But even if you go in knowing you’re watching GM filmmaking, California (flawlessly edited by Maxine Gödecke) is engrossing. An inspired mix of animation, a punk soundtrack, “archival” footage, and “contemporary” interviews, the film is a powerful consideration of loss and the struggle to make sense of competing truths about someone you thought you knew. When friends gather after the funeral of Denis Paraceck to reminisce, their memories—illustrated by animated sequences, old TV clips, and home movies—sketch a talented, charismatic leader of East Germany’s ’80s skateboard culture. They also sketch the sociopolitical realities of pre- and post-reunification East Germany. But news that Denis joined the army after he and his friends splintered baffles them all. Filling in the mystery of who he became (and how) is part of the film’s magnetic pull. The other is the way it celebrates how ordinary teens really did create their own Cold War culture of resistance. This Ain’t California is a masterful lie that illuminates a little-known reality.