Roller Dreams review: An absorbing and vibrant celebration of the 80s rolling skating/disco scene and the characters who engendered its revolution.

Roller Dreams review by Dan Bullock at the Sydney Film Festival.

Roller Dreams, the directorial debut documentary feature from Kate Hickey, is a superb, vibrant and poignant celebration of the Venice Beach roller-skating/ dancing scene that started in 1979 and we follow it through to the present day. What makes Hickey’s work particularly special is the distinct focus on a small group of talented people who ultimately, as a team, kicked off the skating revolution that made it incredibly popular in the early 80s.

The key characters in the game are here in ‘now’ interviews alongside archive footage of them performing and throughout Roller Dreams, we get to witness their super skills from the past which reveal individual moves and charisma. Back in the day, their desire for roller dancing made them the people to watch on Venice Beach and, I have to say, meeting the stories and history of James Lightning aka ‘Mad’, Sara Messenger aka ‘Sally Piano’, Terrell Ferguson, Larry Pitts, James ‘Jimmy’ Rich, and Duval Stowers was an absolute privilege.

Hickey finds a smart balance throughout because although they all had a lot of fun, many came from the surrounding black ghettos in LA but they found a way to escape through roller-skating. It’s clear this escapism meant a positive focus and purpose in their lives, while friends would get involved with gangs, they’d escape down to the Beach to entertain and it had a significant impact on all their futures.

There’s no shying away from the negative Police influence on the scene and especially after the Rodney King beating and consequential riots. These vital, historic moments remind us when American police brutality was shown to the world, because people had video cameras to show the truth. Also, in the words of the ‘Mad’ and his friends, we witness how those moments started to shatter the dreams in the skating world, because of the knock-on effect of Police crackdowns on large groups of black people, even though they were usually having fun as they had in the past. For me, it’s easy to prove culpability and a systematic failure of policing because most things they did only made it worse, unless you were white.

So while Roller Dreams also justly merges in the negative impact of Hollywood whitewashing roller dancing in their movies, alongside racism and a growing drug scene after the riots, overall its main focus to share the love and passion these people had – and definitely still have – for drifting away with the sheer pleasure of skating. In my experience, and until recently I hadn’t roller-skated for years, after one night of Roller Disco and going for 3 hours straight, I can sincerely say that joy reminded me how to easy it is to underestimate the power and addiction of doing something you love, in any form, and how it touches your life.

While occasionally saddened by their stories, and riled when the Police try to shut them down, the documentary is absorbing and exciting from start to finish. Roller Dreams is a touching tribute to the tenacious skaters of Venice Beach who really did made the world a little better by being unique individuals with a positive skating passion.

Roller Dreams debuts at the Sydney Film Festival on 11 June 2017