Full Frame Film Festival 2011: ‘My Playground’

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We as a filmmaking and film-going species are clearly interested in environments, built and found. Kaspar Astrup Schröder’s My Playground features the emerging sport of parkour, or “freerunning”. The film follows a group of young Danish parkour athletes called Team JiYo as it travels to Japan, China and the US to connect with and run along side other like-minded human monkeys.

Two things are required for this sport: motion and architecture. Bodies (no boards, no wheels, no sails and definitely no safety nets) hurtle through parking lots, modernist housing projects and the curious formations in public squares. The athletes are for real, organized around “clubs” and a shared ethos, but without leagues, competitions or clothing label sponsorships.

Hipster architects are, however, fascinated by the activity, and seem to be designing buildings with the intention of allowing maximum access for parkour. One philosopher interviewed in the film suggests that while most sports aim to defy nature by overcoming physical limitations, freerunning aims to defy culture by overcoming the constraints of design. But the great modernist architects have long believed that their built environments would help form the “new man.” Seeing people somersault down the side of a housing complex makes that modernist claim more plausible.

The involvement of architects does, however, create some ambiguities. The film culminates with the construction of a parkour training facility. While everyone involved loves the structures, this domesticated training ground seems to represent a loss of innocence for those committed to spontaneous interaction with their urban environment. The film’s trajectory isn’t as fluid as the movements performed, but it’s a pleasure to watch, all the same.