[Calgary Underground Film Festival] Documentaries: Roller Dreams (2018) - Reviewed

Roller Dreams screened at CUFF

Roller Dreams, a film by Kate Hickey, is a deeply fascinating film that explores the rise and fall of the roller dancing scene on Venice Beach and its pop culture explosion, while also examining its relation to black culture, politics, money, and racism in the Los Angeles area.

Much like Dogtown and Z-Boys, Roller Dreams looks at a group of individuals who became revolutionaries and were the impetus for the explosion in popularity of roller dancing in Venice and eventually in Hollywood. The film primarily takes an in-depth look at the originators of the movement; James Lightning AKA Mad, Sarah Messenger AKA Sally Piano, Terrell Ferguson, Larry Pitts, James “Jimmy” Rich, and Duval Stowers. We learn a great deal about their upbringings, what led them to eventually skate on Venice Beach, and where they are now. They also take us on a historical journey of Venice, once called the slum by the sea, and the social and political issues that have affected minorities in that area, detailing how the ‘91 riots and the rise of crack forever altered the Venice Beach scene.

Hickey weaves together a variety of visual elements to create an interesting and insightful piece of cinema. She uses modern cinematic footage of Venice, archival video footage from the ‘80s and ‘90s of the group roller dancing, modern interviews with each of the originators, historical news footage and photos from the ‘50s through the ‘90s, and voice-over interviews from the six originators. The music is also an important aspect of the documentary, incorporating disco and other types of songs that they would have danced to on the beach. Roller Dreams is carried by the large amount of outstanding archival footage that they were able to integrate into the film of the group roller dancing, it shows the level of expertise and artistry that they had as both individuals and a group. The interviews are also well done. Most of the individuals are extremely well spoken and they do an excellent job of conveying their thoughts on what happened and how they felt, especially Sally Piano.

Roller Dreams is an interesting look into a pop culture phenomena that faded almost as quickly as it exploded, and how various factors ultimately led to its demise. It’s also an intimate story about six of the main people who were part of the movement. If you’re a fan of documentaries that explore ‘70s and ‘80s pop culture such as skating, surfing, and graffiti art, then this is definitely a film that you should check out. 

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-Raul Vantassle