Joris Debeij and Mike S. Smith’s Tailwhip is the story of a young BMX-rider with the promise of becoming a professional athlete and escaping his unideal surroundings. It is a story of hope and inspiration, about dreaming big and pushing yourself to become a better person by doing what you love.
But eventually, it is the story of the love between a father and his son, their shared passion and respect for each other bringing them closer together. Erik Aguila’s father probably wouldn’t count as a standard example of the so-called “hockey dad” who lives through the achievements of his children. A part of him might want a better life for his son by encouraging his talents as a BMX-rider, but it is that support and admiration that gives Erik added strength instead of pressuring the young teenager.
Still, one can’t help but sense that there’s more to the story between Erik and his parents, and the tensions that might linger between them because of their son’s dream of becoming a professional BMX-rider. But the directorial-team finds the right balance between the portrait of a young, promising sports-talent and the personal side of his journey.
The relationship between a father and his son has a special layer to it, no matter how strong that bond is. Whether we want to emulate or exceed our father’s path, choose an opposite life because of their shadow or wrong-doings, or simply look for love and acceptance from them – a young man’s life is always influenced by his father (the ones who were there for their son, the ones who left; the ones you cared or those who didn’t).
But at the same time it’s also worth noting how much Erik’s father Anthony seems to gain from their common interest. The soft focus on this part of Erik’s story and the father-son dynamic is what sets the film apart from other aspirational tales of promising athletes.
This is Debeij’s fourth feature on our site, with his three previous picks The Bull Rider, Terrance, Making It in America, all made under the moniker ‘I Am Los Angeles’. While his past few portrait docs were made in cooperation with the New York Times Op-Doc series, his latest, which was made in collaboration with co-director and editor Mike Smith, is released through the website Uninterrupted.com – a “content network providing unique personalities in sports and entertainment the platform to amplify their stories and connect with fans on a deeper level.”
While we skipped his touching Perfectly Normal as a feature on our site, we always value the director’s consistent motivation to push himself within the framework of his own sensibilities as a documentary filmmaker. It is gratifying to see that with each new effort, Joris is delivering on the promise of his earlier work and constantly evolves his abilities as a director. While his personal style is still evident, he again raises his game with Tailwhip and seems to become one of the stalwarts in the current landscape of non-fiction short filmmaking.
With Tailwhip he continues to prove his cinematic eye by applying an impressive atmospheric visual design – but more than that, he is one of the most skilled directors to tell a simple, personal story with a tightly crafted presentation that expands the narrative into a richer experience than at first meets the eye. The way Debeij and Smith intercut the various soundbites into a coherent voice-over narration that almost becomes a dream-like dialogue is an expansion of how the interviews and the captured scenes contemplate each other, instead of just commenting on what we already see.
While both directors worked on separate projects in the meantime, their joint creative effort is a testament to the their power as a filmmaking-duo that hopefully might give us new stories in the realm of Tailwhip in the near future.