Parkour filmmaking has come light years since the grainy days of yore, and it seems even the greenest of athletes can throw together a professional-looking video for themselves these days. While this is certainly a vast improvement in terms of video quality, it doesn’t always translate to a more immersive and personal experience for the watcher.
Parkour as a subject for filmmaking may at first seem very point-and-shoot, get the moves and go. But it isn’t, filming parkour has come to be an art form. Parkour is filled with tales of trials and tribulations, not unlike that of a novel. This makes the standard parkour video, in contrast, look like a short-story, and the Instagram clip like tabloid news. In a novel, the author has the ability to diverge from the path, to digress and explore subjects as they come; the short story sticks to a designated and decided message, without room for extraneous detail. Tabloid news can be very loud and grab serious attention, but ultimately falls flat.
This is exemplified in team film projects, where the length allows the watcher to experience the impact of the individual athletes’ talents, while also elevating the camaraderie of a tightly-knit group of friends jumping around. However, not all videos are created equal, and it takes a significant amount of time, money, creativity, and a physical toll on the athletes to create the kind of parkour films that have genuine impact on the future of the sport.
The goal of the film is build a viewer’s connection to the athletes, and through their videography that connection deepens, because you get to see the personalities and the lifestyle behind the movement much more so than in a standard vlog or training video. Vlogs often have the video length of a more narrative-driven production, but they tend to suffer from a lack of depth and disjointed structure. The narrative meandering of a film lends itself to the creativity of the filmmaker. Adding context to the exceptional movement by way of freedom to express not only the strength and discipline integral to parkour, but the relationships and personal development that evolves alongside the athleticism.
There is one final difference between the constant flurry of YouTube and Instagram releases and the parkour film, one difference that has caused turbulence amongst some in the community. That is the paywall.
While some may become fearful at the mention of the word, many like myself agree that this is more than a necessary evil. This is a natural progression of the sport. If we as a community wish to see parkour grow in the public eye, and develop into a movement industry that stands the test of time, then we need to put our money where our collective mouth is. (Collective Mouth is a sick band name by the way.) We need to reward these creative minds by paying them for the time and effort it took to handcraft these incredible movies; and provide them the resources necessary to continue their productions by way of buying merchandise; supporting the grassroots brands behind the athletes.
If the brands supporting these athletes die out, then the athletes can no longer produce the content that we all snaffle down like greedy little goblins. Without the support of the community, the future of having professionals in this sport at all is at risk. As more parkour films enter the public eye, we need to be willing, as a whole, to do what it takes to watch them. If it means forking over a few dollars, then please, take my money and do something amazing with it. (I’m a Motus shill, it is what it is.)
Now, it is with great pleasure that reflect on the parkour films that changed the way I look at the sport, and inspired me to open my pockets. These are presented in no particular order.
ROOF CULTURE ASIA
It was 2017 when the viral footage of Max Cave leaping from ledge to ledge across skyscrapers in Hong Kong first exploded onto the hive mind of the parkour community. It was already apparent that this film would change the perception of the sport; not just on a community level, but globally. RCA, as it’s affectionately abbreviated, is a masterclass in the exploration of parkour as a discipline and as a vehicle for driving narrative.
Sole Destroyer kicked down the doors of the parkour scene in summer 2020, and sits comfortably at the top of my favorite parkour videos of all time. All biases aside, this film is much more than a brilliantly captured action piece. This film showcases the emotional journey inherent in every parkour challenge. And more so than other films, in my opinion, puts special emphasis on the soundtrack to the already balls-to-the-wall physicality on display. You can palpably feel the intensity of the movement alongside the soundtrack. Sole Destroyer is a gnarly, rowdy example of some of the best movement the community has to offer.
ENTER THE BREACH
This film is a monster in its own class, especially considering the whole thing was filmed over the course of 10 days on the Breach Tour 2020. While the parkour is undeniably hard hitting, the thing that stuck with this writer most was the overall feeling of solidarity amongst the athletes, filmmakers, and even a kindly food bank operator. The personal stories juxtaposed with general parkour bad-assery makes for a very interesting film, with tons to offer in the way of community perspective. This film has arguably received the most backlash in terms of paywall hate, but I would happily spend money on another project just like this one.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Kipa, Skull Chatter, & Capstone
Writers note: Firstly, these videos are stupidly good, and if you haven’t seen them, stop reading and enjoy those first. Secondly, the reason these videos appear in this article, is that they capitalize on the narrative art form of the other parkour films around them, not to mention that they are quite long compared to a standard parkour video. Also, I would have spent money on these videos in a heartbeat.
KIPA— Berlingo, Robots, and Quality Control
Perhaps the best example of a team straight-up dismantling the establishment of parkour video is Kipa. Between 2020 and 2021 Kipa has released three separate longform productions: Robots, Berlingo, and Quality Control. Each of these merits a discussion on their own (they’re seriously so good), but for the purposes of this article I’ll “keepa” them together. (Sorry, I can’t help myself.)
Their film projects are so effective even without a paywall, because of the care and consideration that obviously goes into developing, shooting, and editing each line, the artistic vision and style cultivated by the edit, and the onslaught of behind-the-scenes footage that accompanies them. These boys have undoubtedly impacted parkour with each film, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Nate Weston— Skull Chatter
Skull Chatter has a definitive “art house” production vibe, from the black and white edit, to the Alan Watts voiceover, this feels like an innovative, artistic foray into self-expressive movement that is utterly raw and unapologetically real. A distinct and welcome growth from the 3run “poetry in motion” years. If Nate had seen fit to release this like a skate part and charge a few dollars, I wouldn’t have hesitated to snatch it up.
Capstone feels oddly like the opposite side of the same coin as Skull Chatter. Rather than delving into the introspective side of parkour, Capstone rides the flaming hype train straight into fat drop station. The video delivers a fresh point of view on the effects of geography on a parkour community, and its influence on the movement styles of its members. The physicality on its own is a different visual experience, a foray into communal movement, one that is just as raw, and unapologetically real.
Ultimately, the point I hope I’ve made is that parkour is an incredibly effective tool for producing longform media content, and that if we, as parkour practitioners, wish to see the sport subvert our parents’ expectations and parkour become something more than a pastime, then we need to put our own time and money into supporting these projects.
Support creators, buy movies, and use the code CHAPPY10 at checkout for 10% off. I told you I’m a shill, what did you expect?
Max Sliding: photo courtesy of Motus, Sole Destroyer
Punk Kelan: photo courtesy of Kelan Ryan's Instagram
Max Cave's Big Jump: photo courtesy of Storror, Roof Culture Asia Trailer
Sole Destroyer: photo courtesy of Jordan Tyler Lea, Sole Destroyer
Flying Phil Doyle: photo courtesy of Breach
Quality Control: photo courtesy of KIPA Magazine
Nate Weston's Water Towers: photo courtesy of Tempest, Skull Chatter
Fat Drop Station: photo courtesy of Capst1