The Film: Rolling


When Dr. Gretchen Berland gave video cameras to three Los Angeles residents in wheelchairs and asked them to film their daily lives, she wasn’t sure what they would capture. In the end — after nearly two years and 212 hours of tape — Galen Buckwalter, Ernie Wallengren and Vicki Elman did far more than accomplish Berland’s goal of providing care givers, policy makers and health care professionals insight into life on wheels for 1.6 million Americans.

Chapter 1 (21:25)

 

Chapter 2 (19:10)

 

Chapter 3 (14:56)

 

ROLLING was named best documentary at the Independent Film Project conference for works in progress, held in New York City. The film was also one of 14 new American films chosen by the Independent Film Project for screening at the European Film Market, which was held in conjunction with the Berlin Film Festival.

While Berland and her cinematographer both shot footage for ROLLING, the documentary is primarily filmed by the three participants via video cameras mounted on their chairs: Buckwalter, a clinical psychologist paralyzed at 17; Wallengren, a TV writer with five children who suffered from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), which stole his mobility and, finally, his ability to speak and breathe; and Elman, who was the business manager for a department at the UCLA School of Medicine until multiple sclerosis put her in a chair.

In the film, Buckwalter calls himself a “proud gimp” and says, “My blessings don’t stop it from hurting.” Each participant captures the joy of living as well as the pain. Buckwalter films himself practicing with his band, Siggy, camping with his wife and friends, stressing his aching shoulders by repeatedly lifting himself in and out of his car, and during a frustrating doctor’s visit.

Elman, the divorced mother of a daughter in medical school, is seen advocating for Californians for Disability Rights and a bill called the “V. Elman Community Living Act,” which would make it easier for the disabled to live at home.

Wallengren is seen deftly coaching his sons’ basketball team, dealing with awkward comments from well-meaning people at a birthday party, and using dry humor to deflect difficult situations.

“Even though the film started out as a way of understanding the experience of being in a wheelchair, in the end, it’s really about life,” says Berland. “It’s not about feeling sorry for someone with a disability.”

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