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Film Review: Roller Dreams @ London Film Festival 2017


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If there ever was a film to make you totally fall in love with an era in the past, have you envy a time gone by and feel a nostalgia more powerful than any you’ve felt before, it’s Roller Dreams.

 In the heart of California is the unbelievably cool Venice Beach skate gang who spend morning to night dancing with palpable passion to soul, funk and disco 80s tunes. Director Kate Hickey explores the epicentre of 80s skating and music culture, bringing an intricate political and social layer to something which you could never imagine had these issues attached to it.

Opening the film is one of the best montage sequences to find itself amongst the likes of classic 80s dance flicks. The skill of these skaters is unparalleled, with a mesmerising fluidity to their movements which is wholly and totally in harmony with the music. 

For this gang, skating is everything. It is the essence of their life and soul and nothing in their life is executed with such raw passion.

Figures of 8, handstands, spins, and downright disco soul are just some of the moves and features choreographed into their dancing. It's a showcase of skill from the heart and soul of Venice and Venice Beach black culture. It's honest, raw passion, and stands for so much more than what initially meets the eye.

Besides from the fact that this documentary could sustain itself on the plethora of archive skating footage alone, skating exists on a deeper level for each and every skater than what it initially seems.

Underneath the glamorous, glossy layer that paves Venice Beach is a story of civil rights, race, hopes and dreams.

For the Venice Beach skaters, skating holds an individual and unique significance to them. For some, it's a way to escape the endemic gang culture that plagued parts of LA. For skate leader Mad, it's a doorway to something great and a chance to achieve dreams. For one skater, Venice Beach is the reason he was able to get his kids through college. Each skater proves that in life passion is everything, and its effects go far beyond their skating ability.

However, against this dreamy world is a back drop not quite so glamorous which sees Venice Beach fighting for survival. Where Venice Beach provided hope and prospects for many people, authorities saw it as a threat where too many people gathered to witness something unique to black culture. Not only do authorities try to scale down the skate scene, but try to end it all together.

And with mainstream skating films such as Xanadu and Roller Boogie being whitewashed for a Hollywood audience, the Venice Beach skate culture had to fight for its unique reputation. With most in the Venice skate gang growing up in the context of race and civil rights movements which continued to simmer in the 80s, the absurdity in the attempts to repress skating in what is a beautiful expression of individuality, passion and community are all the more infuriating.

The whole era is a bitter sweet memory for the skaters who hold a deep love and eternal passion for their art, yet are also pained by the struggles, failures, and the general fizzling out of their community. But behind these trials and tribulations was an absolutely phenomenal soundtrack of soul and disco music. It's true, they really don't make music like this anymore.

Kate Hickey has succeeded in bringing a deeper level and a greater significance to a small chapter in civil rights history, while also explorering the personal connection each skater had to their art.

 A simply fantastic and multi-layered documentary, and a moving passion project for cast and viewers alike. No doubt you will be rummaging for your old skates after you see this.

Roller Dreams screened as part of the 2017 BFI London Film Festival this October. Further details can be found here.

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