In this featured presentation at Viet Film Fest 2023, Dawn of Skates weaves its narrative into the festival’s celebration of cultural identity and belonging. The film centers itself on a Vietnamese American teenager’s journey to bolster her self-confidence through roller skating. In this interview, we delve into director Mitch Truong’s creative insights behind Dawn of Skates.

Did you or someone else experience a similar journey of self-confidence and friendship that helped craft the narrative?

Dawn of Skates is derived from my discovery of a new skate community during the pandemic when we all had to be 6 feet apart. Coincidentally, a local legend in the scene – Richard Humphrey – was teaching outdoor classes in Fremont. On the first day I was greeted warmly and encouraged by seasoned skaters to challenge myself – even though I was frightened and a beginner to roller dancing. The Bay Area roller skate community really helped open me up to new friendships. It also boosted my self-confidence and taught me a new skill. 

This story very easily could have been set in the present day. Why did you decide on setting this in the 1990s?

I set this in the early 90’s because ice skating was the hottest thing in that era and because Michelle Kwan had the biggest influence on me. Although my family couldn’t afford ice skating lessons, roller skating was much more accessible because you could do it almost anywhere.

Were you and lead actress Angela Nguyen skaters yourselves before you made this film?

I have been roller skating since I was 12, usually just at Cal-Skate in Milpitas, CA, but was given my very own pair of skates in 2019 before the pandemic. Angela began lessons when we started filming – which was great because her character was also a beginner in the film.

Dawn of Skates is bathed in warm colors throughout. What was your intention and how did you achieve the color scheme and lighting in your film? Did you have any cinematic influences in terms of the color scheme and lighting?

The 90’s to me is like a vivid memory filled with warm and fun colors. One major color scheme influence for Dawn of Skates was Napoleon Dynamite (2004). I love how the characters and locations had so much ‘70s influence, and it reflected that getting new stuff like clothes and home renovations wasn’t necessarily accessible if you weren’t wealthy.

Can you speak about how the film’s score and soundtrack came together?

I worked closely with my friends Lucas [Weisman] and Arda [Alev], who are composers from Seattle. I gave them some music I thought would fit best to the film and they made their own rendition of it. I would highlight a few beats I loved most from a song and they got creative and played around with different instruments to match the vibe of the film.

The Santa Cruz Roller Palladium in Santa Cruz, California is prominently featured in this film. What drew you to the location and did the staff there offer additional assistance during production?

I recently just moved back to Santa Cruz since earning my undergrad at UCSC in 2012. When I first stepped inside the Palladium, I knew it was a special place that I wanted to film. Although I didn’t have the idea for the story yet until the pandemic. It felt like stepping into a time machine and I loved that they kept a lot of the ‘70s-’90s decor that we needed for the film. The staff was mainly there for safety reasons, since we rented out the whole venue, they were very accommodating to our crew and cast. 

(Interviewed by Eric Nong)

Dawn of Skates is part of the “Belonging/Unbelonging” short film set at Viet Film Fest 2023. It will be available virtually, and will be screened in-person at 4 PM on Friday, October 6 at the Frida Cinema in Santa Ana, California.

About Mitch Truong
Mitch Truong is a Vietnamese-American filmmaker based out of San Francisco Bay Area. She hopes to create more films with female Vietnamese-American leads in hopes of validating their childhood experiences and adding a little style and humor to it. She is influenced by directors such as Agnès Varda, Greta Gerwig, Wong Kar-wai, Wes Anderson, and Robert Eggers. She is also an avid street and rollerdance rollerskater

September 30th to October 15th, 2023
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