It’s early afternoon when we finally arrive at the Howard Johnson Hotel, which is 70 percent occupied by skaters, who have flocked here from all around the world this weekend. The premiere of “The Dango is Dead,” is strategically placed around a skating contest, the Tampa AM, the biggest amateur skateboarding competition in the world, being held less than four miles away from the hotel. Fliers posted by management all over the hotel’s walls and doors forbid skateboarding on their property.
After checking into his room, Mancini spots one of his good friends, staying a couple rooms down from us, who is also in the video. A small hotel room party ensues, and the smoky room is soon filled with new and old friends. The guests are busy catching up with each other, excited to see the finished product of the video and discussing new skaters that are emerging on YouTube.
The premiere is at 10 p.m. the next night, which allows us to have the whole day free — albeit hungover. We have no trouble filling the time and mostly spend it by stopping by The Skate Park Of Tampa or (S.P.O.T.) to catch some of the contest action. Mancini, of course, is recognized and the toast of the town with his impending premiere.
As we drive up to the theater that night, we see that there is a huge marquee in the entryway, announcing the “Dango Is Dead” premiere. With a big smile on his face, Mancini flips open his phone and takes a picture of it. He is clearly in his element, with friends all around him, congratulating him on his successes before we even enter the screening room to find our seats in the second row.
The theater is filled to capacity. There are people sitting on the floor and more spread out standing against the wall. The mood is loud and infectious, with complimentary popcorn and Red Bull being thrown around. Everyone is chanting and clapping as Mancini stands up to address his peers. He’s a master hype man, pumping everyone up, chanting with them before the lights dim.
The movie opens with a beautiful shot of the Miami sky at dusk, followed by a clip of John Montesi, the owner of Westside Skate Shop which elicits whistling and clapping from the audience. Every “character” that follows is also showered with the same support and reaction.
The film clocks in at just under forty minutes. As the time passes, it’s clear that everyone is anticipating the Mancini clip. He gets the coveted last two minutes of the video.
When Mancini appears on the screen, the room erupts with cheering; the enthusiasm is palpable. His skateboarding run commands the audience’s rapt attention, especially his high paced performance and tricks.
The way “The Dango” dies is cleverly done, and only those who know Mancini well understand the meaning and irony behind his death. The credits roll and everyone jumps to their feet. Mancini is pleased with the outcome, but like every perfectionist, he notes little parts of his run that he wishes he could change. But the video did what Mancini intended for it to accomplish: the Dango is dead, and street skateboarding is showcased back to its bare roots, stripped away from the trickery of bright lights and clever camera angles.
As someone who doesn’t skate, I found the video entertaining and very well produced. The clips of different skateboarders are beautifully edited, and the music is perfectly matched to them.
After the accolades and congratulations, everyone in the screening room relocates across the street to The Reservoir Bar, where the after-party is being held. We closed the bar.
On the cold, overcast Sunday morning after the premiere, I reflected that the life of a skater is anything but glamorous. It’s a nomadic lifestyle, one that very much parallels that of a struggling artist. There are no shortcuts. Finding a sofa to crash on. Jumping in friends’ cars, traveling to different cities and states for competition, hustling to get video footage are all part of the routine. But this kind of life is all part of earning your stripes as a dedicated skater and getting respect from the community.
Michael Mancini has just done that. With high praise from his peers, the movie has enabled him to start new. Just as he had planned all along.
"I just want to skate and make videos,” he says. “It’s fun and keeps me out of trouble."
The Dango is dead. Long live The Kleetcha.