The skateboard scene of Venice Beach already got its close-up with “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” but anyone familiar with the California coastline knows that’s only half the story. So leave it up to Kate Hickey, a filmmaker who grew up admiring the spins and kicks of Olivia Newton-John in “Xanadu” in her native Australia, to reveal the history of the roller dancing craze of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
“When I moved to Venice in 2007, that old sense of nostalgia and fun came flooding back when I saw there were roller dancers still doing it 20 years later,” said Hickey, who has spent the four years since then collecting footage for “Roller Dreams,” a documentary that has until August 19th to raise funds on Kickstarter to complete production.
With producer Diana Ward coming aboard in 2009, Hickey’s hobby of shooting the roller dancers in the off-hours between her work as an assistant editor on such films as “Whip It” and “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” became a full-fledged feature, documenting the trend that began when a college student named Jeff Rosenberg opened a skate rental shop on the Venice boardwalk, became popularized by a man nicknamed Mad, who recovered from a bad breakup by bringing a tricked out boombox to the beach to give the skaters a beat, and culminated in then-L.A. mayor Tom Bradley declaring the area “the roller skating capital of the world.”
The film follows Mad and a host of other “Original Gangstas,” as they’re known, through their ups and downs in the years since, as some found fame with their fancy footwork and the beach scene itself descended into a haven for drug use and subsequently gentrification that threatened to drown out the culture. Still, “Roller Dreams” will emphasize the good times which continue through today as Hickey is quick to note that she’s most excited about “the gravity and age-defying moves our characters do and many still can do 35 years later, the lovable and larger than life personalities of our characters and that skating has a secret quality that brings people together from all walks of life.”
Hickey and Ward have gone far beyond merely lacing up to bring people together, recently holding a roller reunion in Venice that reassembled many of the original skaters back on the boardwalk, just one example of the extensive legwork that’s gone into the production.
“We chose the independent route because it is the only way we could put the time and patience into a film that hinges on gaining the trust and friendship of the characters involved,” said Ward, who cited the countless favors from friends in the industry that have carried the film this far and allowed the filmmakers to access archival footage from the film’s main subjects which would’ve never been obtained without such dedication. However, the filmmakers are still turning to Kickstarter to ensure “Roller Dreams” will have the rights to all the original music of the era, so the skaters aren’t doing the worm to inauthentic and generic tunes, among other odds and ends.
If all goes well, “Roller Dreams” is aiming to be completed by the end of the year and glide through the spring festival circuit next year. In the mean time, here’s the trailer:
To back this project and to see video from the production, visit the Kickstarter page for "Roller Dreams" here. And stay connected with the film's progress on the film's official site, on Facebook and Twitter.