Interview with Kate Hickey - Roller Dreams, News

Interview with Kate Hickey - Roller Dreams

Roller Dreams: Venice Beach, CA, 1984, and the birth of a new phenomenon: roller dancing! The beyond-hip talent draws massive crowds, but politics, money and gentrification conspire to end the dream. Ahead of Roller Dreams screening at Sydney Film Festival we spoke to the film’s director, producer and editor Kate Hickey.


Could you tell us a little bit about your background and what drew you to documentary filmmaking?

I grew up in Newcastle and both my parents are doctors. I used to go on house calls with my mother and loved meeting all the characters. They would show me their photo albums and often give me little presents and that’s when I became hooked on soaking up other people’s life stories. Many years later I explored this further at Sydney Film School, where I made a documentary on a wingsuit base jumper called Wingman, and a short documentary on a larger than life Italian Vespa mechanic called La Vespa D’oro.


This is your first feature documentary, and it’s shot in the USA. As you’re originally from NSW, how did you crack into ‘the biz’ in LA?

I started off working as a Post Production Assistant on bigger feature films and really put in the hard yards working as an apprentice, assistant editor and finally becoming an editor myself. Making documentaries was always my passion and so that was something I did on the side to keep myself going in the hard times. That way I always had something I loved that I could be creative with while I was a very small pawn in a big game.


Would you ever consider making the move back to Australia to pursue your passion for documentary filmmaking? What differences do you see between the industries in the US and in Australia?

Yes I would definitely consider coming back to Australia to do a project. As I’ve gotten older the home-sickness has become more pronounced and I feel a shift to want to do something for my own country. There is a loyalty and an inexplicable bond. I would say the biggest difference between the Australian and US film industries is the diversity of work available and the opportunities.


Your film, Roller Dreams, is screening in the Documentary Australia Foundation Award competition at Sydney Film Festival in the Documentary Australia Foundation Award. Can you share with us how you felt when it was accepted?

Very excited! I was so happy that firstly the film would be seen and that all our work as a team had amounted to something. I breathed a sigh of relief that our characters’ stories and their dedication to their art form would be appreciated at long last. Roller dancing has been misrepresented in history by these ‘hokey’ movies and we knew the real story, that is was a cool, soul-inspired movement that deserved recognition and documentation. I also felt proud that after many years of struggle over here I could come back to my home country and show something to my friends and family that represented who I am.


We heard that the film was partly born out of your obsession with Olivia Newton-John in the movie Xanadu as a child. Can you share with us how you developed the idea and what made you believe it was good material for a documentary?

Yes! I loved Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu and would dress up in any white garbs I could find and skate along the promenade in Newcastle. Sunny, the struggling artist in the film takes a picture of a beguiling muse, Livvy, skating past and this enables him to create artwork beyond his wildest dreams. Cut to 15 years later and I moved to the heart of Venice Beach, California where the story took place.

I go to the beach and can’t believe my eyes when I see a group of skaters down there still giving it all they’ve got. None of them made it into the 80s movies but they were clearly the golden torchbearers of what seemed to be a dying art form. I loved their flamboyant styles and personalities so I began filming and getting to know the characters and their story better.

After a few years I had an edit that was fun and spirited but lacking angle and drive. I was particularly interested in why the skaters felt they were robbed of their scene and their rightful place in history and this is exactly what interested producer Diana Ward about the project. So we started delving further and exploring ‘the dream didn’t fade, it was taken’ angle. Then a few more years later producer Cecilia Ritchie from Aquarius Films picked up the project and defined things further and took it to Screen Australia for funding. That was the last step required in this rather long dance routine and thankfully that was what got us here today.


The talent in the film include an array of vibrant personality who made up the multicultural roller 'family' of the time - how did you get them on board with the project?

I would ride my bike down to the beach every weekend and watch them. Then I became friends with one girl Wendy who was planning to put on a concert using all the main players from the scene. I actually followed her as my surrogate Olivia Newton-John and documented her trials and tribulations. In the end, I decided this was not the story I wanted to tell. A very hard call to make!

I wanted to keep the story focused on Venice and these amazing characters and why they felt like they’d been dealt a rough hand in history. After a few years of getting to know these main characters further, they spoke highly of their godfather and leader Mad, who spearheaded the scene but had since left. I flew to Utah to meet with him and that was where the story really sunk its teeth into me. He was the missing link.


What perspective on the roller skating family will audiences take away from the film?

I hope that they will understand how much roller dancing meant to these skaters. Not only was it a means of self-expression but also it was a part of their identity and kept that spark alive in them over the past 30 years. They are a family who stuck together through the hey-day and the tough times in the 90s and they all remain tightly bonded. It’s a communal act and it doesn’t matter where you come from or what ethnicity you are, as long as you share a passion for skating. The roller skate movement knows no borders. And that’s what Venice stands for as a meeting place. Even though gentrification and other forces will persist it will always remain a unique and special place.


In the current world state of affairs do you think films about artists and performers are more necessary or less necessary?

I think they are more necessary than ever as technology has crept in and started to take over. Kids would rather stay at home and play video games instead of going to communal places like Venice beach to discover and broaden their horizons. Artists and performers are the truth tellers and it’s important they are given a platform or area for their message to be expressed. Some politicians have devalued the arts and it’s important for us to resist and place even more emphasis on it to not lose track of what’s important.


What was your greatest lesson from making this film?

My greatest lesson has been in going with gut instinct. I always felt that kernel of truth was the most important but I got caught up and followed a lot of tangents and bright shiny things along the way. So I would say ‘pick and stick’ is the biggest lesson I learnt. Listen, research, listen some more and then delve very deep!


What kind of films will you make after this - has this film changed your storytelling worldview?

I will always be drawn to making films about the underdog and people who get overlooked in society. That will never change. My worldview remains the same that the best stories are in the cracks or the margins and that’s what should be explored more to find the truth.


Roller Dreams is screening at Sydney Film Festival: Sun 11 Jun |7:15 PM |Event Cinemas George Street:

Festival guest: Kate Hickey and roller dancer Terrell Ferguson

Party: Followed by Roller Dreams Party at The Hub, starting at 9.00pm

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