When I saw Skatopia: 88 Acres Of Anarchy pop up on Netflix, I was intrigued. I’ve watched plenty of movies about skateboarding, both fictional and documentary, so when I saw this thing about a dude whose been building a huge skatepark on his property for years, I figured it was worth a look. I had no idea the rollercoaster of emotions I’d feel while watching, though.
First, the basics. Brewce Martin is a skater who tried for years to build a place where he could skate and enjoy himself, but kept finding static until he moved to a southeastern part of Ohio (my home state) where he bought the titular 88 acres and started building. Far from being wealthy, or great at paying his bills, Martin has made the creation of Skatopia a group effort, allowing people to stay on his property in everything from old trailers to lean-tos. The concept is pretty simple, they do work and they get to not only stay there but also skate the place. It’s become a kind of Mecca for skaters as one of the many transients says during the film. To help keep things rolling, Brewce holds a few annual parties to help bolster income which he then puts back into the park. One of the main points of interest and conflict comes from the 60 day prison term Martin winds up serving to take care of an assault and battery charge that he says was actually an attack on himself where he was simply defending himself.
From watching the film I feel like I got a pretty good sense of who Brewce is as a person, partially because he lays a lot of things out on the table, but also from watching him interact with people. He just wants to live his life how he wants to live it which mostly includes skating, partying and fooling around, none of which is bad on its own. But, he’s got a toddler daughter with his girlfriend and that’s one of the main sources of discomfort and worry for me as a viewer throughout this film, but I’ll get back to that in a bit. He freely admits to having problems with fidelity, authority and rage, all of which are hinted at or overtly shown in the film. But he’s also a control freak, which is interesting considering he doesn’t want anyone telling him what to do. The subtitle of the film — 88 Acres Of Anarchy — is actually bullshit. Skatopia is a dictatorship, run by Brewce. He’s got a solid set of rules that might have a lot of bend to them and space for individuality, but if you cross him, he will come down on you, either with violence or expelling you from the kingdom.
And, to a certain extent, he has to be like that. He’s dealing with a group of individuals who have basically shrugged off the regular working world. They just want to skate. Some of them are jazzed about actually being a part of building up Skatopia, which is fantastic, but others look like they’re just there to drink a lot of Pabst Blue Ribbon and possibly partake in various illegal narcotics (nothing’s overtly shown, but if there aren’t at least a half dozen meth heads in this film, I’m one of the Z-Boys). When he’s locked up, things just don’t get done. Partially because his minions don’t want to work, partially because their king isn’t pushing them to get things done and partially because he is the wheeling, dealing brains behind the entire operation. Still, he gets out in time to finish enough of something to throw a party that seems like a success.
So that’s all well and good. I’m not the type that wants to tell adults how to live their lives (though I’m fairly certain some of the Skatopia inhabitants were under age). My only real problems with this guy revolve around his young daughter. My kid’s about as old as she is in the film and I just can’t help but feel sorry for her. It’s great that her dad is a free thinker, but he also throws a party that involves drinking, drugs, fire, fireworks, explosions and all manner of other craziness. Where’s she in all that? Who’s looking out for her? There’s a scene where her mom brings her to visit her dad in prison that broke my heart. That’s where I think I turned on Brewce as a character. For me, a person’s number one priority should be protecting their children and I worry that she’s in an unsafe environment without much supervision. There’s also the seemingly looming threat of all the things Brewce has specifically told us viewers about himself that keep gnawing in my brain when it comes to his daughter: he’s violent, irresponsible, bad with money, all things that tick in the negative when it comes to fatherhood.
And yet, I find myself agreeing with a lot of what Brewce has to say. He pulled his older son — who’s 20 in the film — out of traditional schools because he doesn’t like how they indoctrinate people. I can relate to that. He thinks that all people need a balance in their lives between the negative and positive, searching for that thing that makes them feel good. Yeah, I’m on board with that too. However, while I agree with him on many things, I personally wouldn’t let those ideas supersede my role as a father, which I think is where there’s a disconnect for me when it comes to the man.
It doesn’t help that this is a strange, meandering documentary with characters coming and going without notice or follow-up. You see Brewce, his minions and their exploits for an extended period of time to get an idea of what life at Skatopia is like, but it feels like there might have been some kind of director- or editor-driven message behind the whole thing that isn’t quite clear. For instance, there’s an entire scene where Brewce and the boys invite some strippers over to the place to hang out the night before he goes to court. There’s absolutely no point to this scene and yet it goes on for quite a while and really skeeved me out when it came to Brewce and his people. I’m not sure if that was the filmmakers’ intent or not, but I kind of think it might be. Otherwise, why not show other footage of more interesting things happening? You could have used that time to give a little bit more context to what the heck was happening during the party, which could probably have its own doc all to itself.
I did a little looking around after watching this movie and came to understand that Brewce was actually pretty drastically injured in a 2010 explosion at a tire factory that put him in a coma for a while. There’s not a ton of information on Wikipidea about what’s happened since then (Brewce himself doesn’t have a page, but the park does), but I get the idea he’s doing alright and Skatopia is still going strong.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure if I’d recommend this movie. On one hand, it certainly immerses you in a lifestyle you may or may not be familiar with. On the other, it’s oddly put together and features people who range from soft and cuddly to worrisome and troubling which might turn you off. I say give it a shot and see what’s going on in a place that some consider heaven and others would avoid like hell.