5th October 2017 9.00pm at Hackney Picturehouse
6th October 2017 6.30pm at empire
An intriguing documentary about a vibrant, fairly unknown culture of rollerskating dancers, or roller-dancers, which was born on Venice Beach in California in the 1970s, Australian director Kate Hickey’s Roller Dreams provides at eye-opening look at a terrifically fun and positive phenomenon, and the racism which, for the most part, eventually shut it down.
At the time considered a “black beach” it was a place where African-Americans, Hispanics, whites and all races congregated to perform and watch an astoundingly talented group do their creative and singular break-dancing routines on wheels. An upbeat, safe, clean environment, everyone had a wonderful time. According to dancers Mad, “Everyone around the world came to see us…we were the rock gods… on Mount Olympus”, and Sally, “It was like sex on wheels”.
What is particularly joyful about this crew, besides their incredible talent, is their originality and craziness. Besides leaders Mad (James Lightning) and Sally Messenger, Duval Stowers is a comedian in a Superman suit; and Jimmy Rich, Terrell Ferguson and Larry Pitts have incredible moves, each completely different and unique.
Calling the scene a “love triangle of music, skating and women”, all started to change after the Rodney King beating incident in the 90s began to “destroy Venice Beach”; drugs became rampant and music changed from 70s/80s soul to hip hop, which “degenerated to Gangasta Rap”. Mad: “Bitch betta have my money – you expect me to skate to that?”.
The police gradually limited their freedom to perform by imposing increasing curfews and declaring that amplified sound was no longer allowed. A surprising point made in this piece is that racism in America is worse today than it was in the 80s. Principle showman, tall, brawny Mad, a decent guy, has inspired terror in some: “As an imposing-looking black man, when you walk out your front door you’re automatically a threat”.
The ultimate demise of Venice Beach’s skating trend occurred when the pavement was removed to prevent roller-dancing, converting it to its current “preppy” state: “That’s when the soul left Venice Beach”.
Although the film could have been shot and edited more tightly, to limit superfluous scenes, the sheer joy of the piece, learning about a fascinating culture, and important revelations regarding racism in America, make Roller Dreams a must-see.
Roller Dreams does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2017 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Roller Dreams here: