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PUSH Tunisia: Skating In A Warzone

Nathan Gray and his The Bedouins crew turned a corrupt politician’s ransacked mansion into a skate park in the aftermath of last year's Jasmine Revolution

After stumbling upon a corrupted politician’s ransacked mansion in the aftermath of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia last year, a group of nomadic skaters, activists and graffiti artists known collectively as 'The Bedouins' decided to turn Imed Trabelsi’s [the nephew of Leïla Ben Ali, the former First Lady of Tunisia] plundered home into something that could be returned back to the people of Tunisa in a positive way. In a feat that involved both locals and travellers from the region, the groups managed to renovate the place, turning it into a makeshift skatepark with postcrete ramps, graffiti murals and a drained swimming pool that was transformed into a skate bowl.

The overhaul acted as a strong metaphor for life before and after the revolution. The ramps were built from pillars that were torn down by angry protesters who had previously chased Trabelsi from his fraudulent estate. The Bedouins filmed and documented everything, editing the footage into a film to be released later this year.

Sticking with their MO of promoting peace in war torn areas of the Middle East through the means of skateboarding and street art, The Bedouins, headed by Nathan Gray, have decided to stage the screenings and premier of PUSH Tunisia in settings similar to that of Trabelsi’s new founded skatepark. With many homes, businesses and public buildings bullet-holed to death and often left flattened due to the unrelenting war and unrest out there, Dazed Digital speaks to Nathan Gray to find out how he aims to bring audiences to savaged buildings and abandoned political homes to watch a film.

Dazed Digital: The last time we spoke you’d just returned to the US after turning the Trabelsi mansion into a skatepark, what has been the local’s reaction to it since then?
Nathan Gray: The reaction to the Trabelsi conversion has been very positive from the Tunisians. Young and old have made comments that this mansion is now a place of history and transformation, not just because of what we did at the skatepark, but because of what the Tunisians did [in the revolution]. The conversion is just an opportunity to highlight this and share it with the world. I think the real story is about what the youth of Tunisia were able to do since the revolution and where they are taking their country.

DD: How will you draw people into a dilapidated building to watch the premiers of PUSH Tunisia?
Nathan Gray: Well, the goal is to preview it like how we did the art show in the mansion. We don’t want just a dry boring preview; we want to bring the surroundings as well so people can really feel what it was like. We’re going around the world with it on a short tour, and we want to make the experience a little more personal for the viewers.

DD: Do you have any particular sites in mind for the screening?
Nathan Gray: Currently we have plans to do art exhibitions and film premiers of PUSH Tunisia in Egypt and Jordan and are open to any other places as well. Unfortunately Egypt is still in a state of turmoil and transition, but obviously it is an important path of the Arab Spring movement. We hope that peace and creative expression prevails here.  

DD: What can people expect from the film?
Nathan Gray: PUSH Tunisia is currently 33 minutes long. It was always intended as a short documentary considering the budget we were able to secure. But our plan now is to build support and connections within the global community of skateboarders, activists and street artists to raise funds for a feature length project. We plan to go to many other countries in the region and do similar type projects, eventually tying everything together into a complex but common narrative. It will be an Arab Spring youth culture post revolutionary documentary which explains the current events and focuses on some unique characters in the region, who are doing street art, music and skateboarding.

DD: How do you aim to make this happen?
Nathan Gray:
We’ve [The Bedouins] partnered up with Rise Up International to begin planning out this larger project and documentary. We launched a Kickstarter page to help share the PUSH Tunisia project with the world, distribute the film and raise capital. You can help support The Bedouins proposed feature length version of PUSH Tunisia by spreading the word and also slipping your hand into your pocket on their Kickstarter page. Alternatively, if you live in the Middle East keep your ears to the ground as The Bedouins will be passing through to excavate other sites in the near future.

By Jake Hanrahan