DOXA Film Festival Preview| My Playground and the Practice of Parkour

The official movie poster for My Playground
I’ve told the story a few times of the first time I encountered the art of parkour or “freerunning” – a form of urban exploration where practitioners traverse the environment through a range of techniques, be it jumping, vaulting, climbing, scaling or sprinting. I was in Montreal for a conference and was strolling through downtown on my way back to the McGill campus when a young guy dashed by me on top of a slim concrete wall only a few feet from my head. Catching my attention, he jumped down 2-3 feet in front of me and began sprinting down the busy street, vaulting back up on top of the wall and then performing a backwards flip back to the sidewalk. The person with me explained how a small group of young guys had been performing these acts around the downtown core for about six months. Ironically enough, I would learn all about parkour in an afternoon session of my conference (on the theme of urban intermedia) when a number of these very same young men showed up to deliver a paper about the growing counterculture practice.

screen shot from My Playground captures the stunning visuals associated with parkour

A very strong subculture of parkour exists on the
Internet through instructional videos, chat rooms,
and networks of practitioners.
Fast forward five years and the phenomena of parkour has become far more familiar in many urban communities around North America. Originating in France with roots in martial arts, gymnastics, and military training, the practice also has connections to avant-garde theories linking the urban exploration of parkour with French Situationists and the concept of psychogeography and the derive. No doubt one of the reasons interest in parkour has expanded in recent years relates to the easy distribution of images and video of parkour practitioners via social networking sites like YouTube. Much like the explosion of interest in street art and graffiti, the focus on parkour is made more visceral through the strong impact of capturing practitioners on video and then editing and setting their images to contemporary techno and/or hip-hop music. See this link for example.

Not surprisingly, parkour has finally become the focus of a larger documentary film. Opening tonight at DOXA, My Playground is the work of award-winning Danish filmmaker Kaspar Astrup Schroder and explores the practice of parkour within the context of movement and urban space, and includes interviews with urban planners, politicians, architects and philosophers.  Set manly in Copenhagen, Denmark (but also traveling to the United States, Japan, UK and China) the film follows the making of the first dedicated parkour park in the world, capturing all of the potential conflicts that such a proposition invites.

The original model for the parkour park in Copenhagen along with visuals
from its final opening in August 2009. (Image source: Danish blog)
In this sense, the film is unlike any of the YouTube clips and short films seeking to represent parkour circulating on the Internet, as this film attempts to capture a multitude of perspectives related to how and why the practice is developing worldwide.  Since the film's premiere at the Shenzhen and Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture in 2009, the film has toured globally and continues to push the discourse on parkour in very engaging directions. As architect Bjarke Ingels, a contributor to the film, explains: “MY PLAYGROUND is a film of course about Parkour, but is also very much about how public life and architecture are intricately linked. Architecture observes human life and attempts to accommodate it, then human life evolves and misinterprets the architecture to expand the realm of possibility and in turn architecture observes the evolved human life and it is this continuous loop of  building and living, building and living”. 

My Playground will be screening at DOXA on Tuesday, May 10th at 9:00pm as part of a double-bill at the Vancity Theatre.