Skateboarding Documentary “I am Thalente” Brings Two Hub LA Members Together


Move over Tony Hawk. There’s a new skateboarding talent in town: Thalente.

Thalente Biyela’s inspiring narrative is one that makes his skateboarding talent even more remarkable. The South African teenager was homeless since the age of nine. He was illiterate. He posted a video online asking for skateboarding sponsors. The video went viral. He moved to California and, through the support of pro-skater Kenny Anderson, became internationally recognized in the pro-skateboarding world.

Then there’s Natalie Johns. When Natalie heard Thalente’s story, she knew she had to document it. A native South African who started the film production company Dig For Fire and based out of Hub LA, Natalie was touched by the skateboarder’s trajectory.

“Growing up in South Africa I was acutely aware of the issue of street kids and other social issues relating to the self perpetuating cycle of poverty,” Natalie wrote us in an email from South Africa. “The idea that a boy who’d lived on the streets for most of his life could find a way to break this cycle through his passion and love of skateboarding was incredibly inspirational to me.”

Natalie’s film, I am Thalente, tells more than the story of Thalente’s professional development as a skateboarder. She also set out to show another side of Thalente’s journey: a personal one. Thalente, 18 years old at the time of the filming, was at a crucial point in his life and faced an opportunity to change the course of his life. Recognizing that the road to success as a pro-skateboarder is challenging and uncertain, Thalente went about overcoming some of his other obstacles. He learned to read, write, and do basic arithmetic. I am Thalente is a film about skateboarding. It also touches upon much more universal subjects: overcoming adversity, pursuing your dreams, and growing up.

So Natalie and her team at Dig for Fire needed tell Thalente’s story, and they knew that they would need public support to complete the film’s production. So Julie Lebedev, Hub LA’s Media Lab Director and a film producer herself, introduced Natalie to the folks from Seed&Spark, who are also Hub LA members and who happened to be hosting a mixer in the Media Lab for members to share their crowdfunding stories and advice. A collaboration quickly followed.

“Julie made the introduction and I was thrilled at the idea of a human connection and personal support from a platform. I don’t think anybody really knows how much work and how tough a crowd funding campaign is to get together and to run,” Natalie wrote. “Seed & Spark provided a great “how to” for a beginner like me and have been supportive throughout the somewhat overwhelming process!”

Seed&Spark is an innovative crowdfunding platform for filmmakers that brings transparency, quality assurance, and distribution services through its website. The Seed&Spark “cinema” hosts a treasure trove of independent films, many of which were funded through their platform. They screened some of these films at Hub LA during West Fest, a “fair trade filmmaking festival” in October 2013. Seed&Spark also seeks to bring funders into the process of the filmmaking, so they know what their contribution is going toward in the production process. This new kind of crowdfunding appealed to Natalie immensely.

“This is a story of public interest. I had already had a lot of supportive feedback and offers of help so I needed to present how folks could get involved in the film making process in a transparent way. Breaking down exactly how the money is spent is an important part of your commitment when asking for donations to what I would consider a social cause. The Seed & Spark platform offered an interesting and engaging way for donors to contribute,” she wrote.

With only eight days left, the I am Thalente campaign is wrapping up, and she’s still looking for support for the film’s second phase of production. Seed&Spark has an 80% policy: if filmmakers successfully reach 80% of their funding, they keep the contributions. As of this writing, the project has reached just about 30% of the necessary funding. Let’s support great independent filmmaking, Thalente’s story, and a really exciting Hub LA collaboration with reaching Natalie’s funding goal by January 10.

Help Natalie tell Thalente’s story! Support I am Thalente on its Seed&Spark page.

Learn about the Seed&Spark platform, browse campaigns, and watch films on their website.

Watch Natalie and James of Seed&Spark discuss their Hub LA connection in a video from our anniversary yearbook!

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