The beauty of a documentary is having your eyes opened to a certain topic. Or more so, to have your present knowledge of something expanded upon. Given the subject of the film, a documentary when done right, can bring you the same range of emotions that a major motion picture can.
Something director Kate Hickey was able to accomplish in her debut documentary. With a deeply layered story, Hickey delivers a heart-warming, informative, and compelling film covering the vibrant roller dancing scene of Venice Beach, California in the 80’s.
With a wealth of archival footage, and the individuals who were a part of this cultural phenomenon delivering plenty of insightful interviews, “Roller Dreams” pulls you into the center of this pop-culture revolution. The film captures the essence and beauty of the performances as well as diving completely into the mindset of those who fled to the beaches with their roller skates to escape their lives. Or to simply have a place to express their creativity. With informative dialogue, this film captures the cultural impact Venice Beach had on many who were from the inner city.
This story captures why this beach was a sanctuary to many African-Americans who felt the vibrant section of coastline was a place that could save them from the troubles they could face if they had spent more time in the neighborhoods they lived in. As a viewer you learn of the beginnings of roller dancing. You get to know the few pioneers who started the revolutionary dancing that ultimately reached all the way up to Hollywood. This film also explores what these men and women are up to now and looking back, how roller dancing impacted their lives.
Hickey weaves loads of archival footage and interviews extremely well to take the viewer on the ride this sub-culture experienced. From its flourishing times in the 80’s when thousands would flock to the beach to simply watch and be part of the action. Into the 90’s as turmoil in the inner cities, cultural politics, and gentrification all stretched out to the beach the skaters called home. As well as how the changes in music began to change the crowds that became attracted to the area, and how racial tension, in various forms, inevitably shut the beach down to the skaters.
In my opinion Hickey incorporates all of this information into a seamless blend of social relevance, the men and women who skated, and the art of roller dancing itself. The collection of archival footage that was amassed for this project and how it was edited were vital to this films entertainment. With the direction, cinematography, and the incorporation of music all complementing each other.
The scenes feel like a time machine that will take you back to the heart of the scene. You can sense the passion, the happiness skating brought, and the good vibes that during the time pulsed throughout the area as this massive group considered themselves a family. Perfectly capturing the natural joy that many would not have been able to find, back on the streets they called home.
The art of the dance itself was compelling to watch as the routines would show high levels of skill and a diverse influence of styles. Listening to interviews and watching each perform their routines when they were younger made this such an engaging documentary to not simple watch, but experience. “Roller Dreams” will inform you, it will make you smile, you will tap your foot to the music as you watch, and it will certainly bring a tear to your eye.
Kate Hickey with her organization and the depth of coverage she displays on this subject prove that she can dive into a topic from a wide range of angles. She can express the true passion of a chosen subject and by using a variety of elements. Hickey with this film, crafts a documentary that is as informative as it is engaging.