We talk to SFS grad Kate Hickey about her feature film debut Roller Dreams, premiering at the Sydney Film Festival this June
By Peter Galvin
Not long after Kate Hickey graduated from Sydney Film School she started working in film and TV in the United States.
Originally from Newcastle with a background in advertising, Hickey first went to New York, before settling in Los Angeles, where she established a home base in Venice Beach.
Hickey, who won the award for best editing at the SFS festival in 2005, quickly racked up a series of impressive feature film credits assisting in the editorial departments of pictures like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008), Whip It (2009), The Town (2010), The English Teacher (2011) and Paradise (2012).
But, Hickey told the SFS Blog, her career highlight came when she scored a gig as assistant editor on Girls, the celebrated comedy-drama created by its star Lena Dunham in 2012, (who was only 26 at the time.)
“It was so me,” she laughs, “I used to stay up late to watch it, and I just devoured it.”
Hickey began on Girls in season 4 and work through season 5 before being promoted to editor for the sixth and final season, which concluded early in 2017.
“I love editing,” she explains. “It’s a bit like [solving a puzzle]. It’s peaceful and therapeutic. I like to sit with [the footage] and find an order for it and its really rewarding when other people love it.”
Still, as Hickey built up her career in post-production further with credits as principal editor on small but impressive indie pics like Farah Goes Bang (2013) and Oh, Lucy (2017) she was working on her feature debut, Roller Dreams (2017) a documentary that its roots in her childhood.
“When I was a little girl I was obsessed with Xanadu,” she says with a laugh. First released in 1980, the film was a sort-of romantic musical…with the dance numbers performed on roller skates.
Featuring songs by Electric Light Orchestra, Cliff Richard and its big star, Olivia Newton-John, Xanadu was Hickey’s favourite movie so much so she would “dress up as ONJ and roller skate up and down the beaches of Newcastle pretending I was in the movie.”
Hickey was intrigued to discover that Venice had its own roller dance scene with a history that stretched back thirty years, a history that in a very deep way touched the sad, volatile and angry story of how LA’s non-white inhabitants were often marginalised, forgotten and dismissed.
Venice is 23kms west of the centre of LA. In cultural terms, it was, at least in the 80s light-years away from the monied, Guccied world the city is famous for.
Hickey explores all this in Roller Dreams, through the eyes of five ‘stars’ of the scene – ‘Mad’, Terrell, Sally, Jimmy and Duval – and notes that not one of these superb performers whose innovative stylings pretty much invented the roller dance form were invited to share their skills in Hollywood.
It’s a smart, and moving film that strikes a fine balance of fun, social insight, and history as it explores the lives of its main characters using some truly stunning archive material, new interviews and a pulsing soundtrack of great tunes including Prince’s Kiss – the scenes signature ‘jam’.
“It took eight years [and many different cuts] to complete,” says Hickey. “I was 26 when I started it, and I’ve definitely grown up making the film.”
She met the cast through what remained of the roller scene in Venice in the early naughties: “I grew very fond of them of them – they were flamboyant, larger than life characters.”
Hickey learned that most of them had come from South Central, a district with a bad rep for gang related violence. “Venice and roller dancing became an Oasis for them,” she says.
Back in Australia in early June for the movies world premiere Hickey was overwhelmed by the films rapturous reception from the sell-out crowd at the Sydney Film Festival: “It’s pretty amazing.”
She remembers her SFS days fondly: “It was a really diverse, liberal culture, that really encouraged creativity and I felt at home straight away.”
The relationships Hickey established then form in her words, ‘a global village’. The SFS grads become like a network, sharing advice, help and assistance no matter where they are in the world or what they are doing, she says. The bonds forged at SFS, remain, after more than a decade, still strong:
“You go out and do your own thing, but if you need to reach out and collaborate,” the support is always there, Hickey believes.
Asked what she took away from her SFS experience that has had the most impact in her professional life Hickey says it was at school where she learned the importance of ‘persistence’.
“Film school is a family,” she says, “but its also a bit of a competitive environment too, and I think I would say to students you have to be willing to work through the night to really make your film great. It’s the same [expectation and demand] in the working world.”
“On Roller Dreams [I persisted] because I just wasn’t willing to let it go till I though it was the best it could be.”