Gray, a devout Christian, and Scerritt, a practicing Buddhist, grew up together in the Middle East, where their parents worked for Aramco, a Saudi-based oil company. In a phone call with Gray, he noted "Sean and I grew up in Saudi Arabia, living in an American compound in Bahrain, and we've been interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for over 20 years."
Gray now works in Central Oregon as a field instructor for a local wilderness therapy school for at-risk youth. Scerritt works in L.A.'s film industry. Gray said that with the support of Elemental Awareness and Pure Skate Shop, and a mere $12,000, he and Skerritt set off to Amman, Jordan in the summer of 2006.
"We wanted to find out if a piece of wood on wheels could change the world. We believe that peace in the Middle East will be achieved in our lifetime," Gray said. They knew that skaters had similar attitudes, no matter what their country or religion.
"Skaters share a common view of rails, stairs and cracks in the ground," and this seemed like a good place to start, Gray said.
Hip-hop proved to be another factor uniting urban communities. The film's music features tracks from several top Middle East hit makers, all donated by the musicians. Gray commented that "other forms of endemic inner city art, including break dancing," are peppered throughout the movie. The film's title arose from one of the skaters describing a spectacular trick as "man, that was sour!"
The film follows the Israeli and Jordanian skaters crossing political borders-often without the knowledge of their families-in order to skate together in each other's cities. Although the distance by car between Amman and Tel Aviv is only 45 minutes, due to security and other formalities an actual crossing averages six hours. In one of the film's best scenes, as the crew attempts to cross into Jordan, it's time for the guards to check their baggage. One of the officials notices a skateboard and asks for a trick; the skater then lands a challenging move, amid raucous cheers from the crowd. The delighted guard then waves the entire crew through without even checking their bags. The skaters mostly film each other performing harrowing skate tricks, using a fisheye lens, which often distorts the image but adds to the piece's personal expression. Between acts of athleticism, the film also incorporates a few intriguing religious and cultural facts about each country, along with one scene entitled "Middle East Peace Talks," which consists of wrestling in a motel room.
Gray says that "The buzz from this project has been so positive (it has played to acclaim at several film festivals, including the 2007 BendFilm festival) that we plan to return to the region this summer, in order to film a sequel, SOUR TOO, this time with a much larger budget. We will revisit Jordan and Israel, probably go into Egypt, and possibly United Arab Emirates."
Locals will have another chance to see SOUR on April 4 at the Sour Crew and Cinder Cone Collaboration. The event, at Cinder Cone Clay Center, will also feature photography, skateboard art, and film clips of Smile (Gray's as yet unreleased skate film from India).
SOUR 4 Peace in the Middle East
Directed by Nathan Gray. Cinder Cone Clay Center, Old Mill Marketplace, 550 SW Industrial Way. April 4, 6 PM (approx.) Free. For more information on The Peace Project, check out the website: www.sourcrew.com