Three Angelenos confined to wheelchairs record their feelings and frustrations in finely drawn docu "Rolling." At once harrowing and inspiring, unrelentingly intimate nature of these stories and the resilient optimism of their subjects suggest that limited arthouse play could spin off from fest spotlights, with subsequent life revolving around tube buys and special interest ancillary.

Three Angelenos confined to wheelchairs record their feelings and frustrations in finely drawn docu “Rolling.” At once harrowing and inspiring, unrelentingly intimate nature of these stories and the resilient optimism of their subjects suggest that limited arthouse play could spin off from fest spotlights (pic recently won a grand jury docu prize at Lake Placid fest), with subsequent life revolving around tube buys and special interest ancillary.

Now in his mid-40s, Galen Buckwalter dove into the Susquehanna River while in high school in the East and hit a rock, which paralyzed him from the neck down. Currently a research scientist with a loving girlfriend and a nascent singing career fronting a band called Siggy, he calmly declares, “I’m not a hero, I’m not a victim. I’m not terribly disgruntled, nor do I really care about ever walking again.”

Describing himself with typical mischievousness as a “high-tech gimp,” former TV writer Ernie Wallengren announces early on that “I’m on my way to becoming a full-fledged quadriplegic, they tell me.” Nonetheless, he enjoys the support of his wife and kids and coaches a teen basketball team from his chair even as he broods over his increasing level of dependence and the fatal nature of his disease.

Twenty-two years ago, Vicki Elman was married with a beautiful 2-year-old daughter and a good job in medicine. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she divorced her husband (“It was clear to me he couldn’t handle my illness”). Now, she is determined to live alone while her daughter is away at medical school.

Over a 16-month period beginning in 2001, helmer-medico Gretchen Berland and co-director and editor Mike Majoros followed the three subjects’ everyday lives via specially configured Sony PC110 digital cameras rigged to their “scooters.” Thus, auds are privy to their challenges: Galen is worried that arthritic shoulders will limit his mobility even further, while Vicki becomes stranded only feet from her front door. She becomes more and more frustrated by a malfunctioning chair that lands her in an insensitive convalescent home while the device is repaired (it soon breaks again). Ernie’s condition is the most grave; his deterioration proceeds with pitiless certainty.

What elevates these stories is the dogged optimism that the three display when confronted with narrow sidewalks, bureaucratic insurance companies and debilitating disease.

Tech credits are understandably rough, yet illuminating to those unfamiliar with a waist-level view of the world. Pic benefits immeasurably from Majoros’ astute, disciplined editing of some 200 hours of raw footage. The three subjects, who share associate directing credit, were enlisted in early stages of what was originally envisioned as a research project.

Rolling

Production

A Fourwheeldrive production, with participation of Yale U. School of Medicine, UCLA Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program, IFP New York. Produced by Gretchen Berland. Directed by Gretchen Berland, Mike Majoros.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, miniDV-to-Digibeta), Galen Buckwalter, Vicki Elman, Ernie Wallengren; editor, Majoros; music, Majoros; sound, Majoros. Reviewed on videocassette at SilverDocs AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival (World View), Silver Spring, Md., June 9, 2004. (Also in Lake Placid Film Festival.) Running time: 71 MIN.

Cast

With: Galen Buckwalter, Vicki Elman, Ernie Wallengren.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more