Lance Mountain, Andy Ruffell, John Buultjens, Bob Haro, Tim Altic, Maximillion Cooper, The London Police, Zach Shaw
There's a warm affection in every frame of Matt Harris's nostalgic doc Rom Boys: 40 Years of Rad, though it's possibly a nostalgia you don't quite expect from a feature-length documentary about the British skateboard and BMX freestyle scene.
But, there you have it.
Affection abounds in this wonderfully engaging doc set amidst Rom Town, or so it's affectionately known by locals, one of the first skate parks to be built in the UK with architectural features so unique that it acquired historical status by English Heritage in 2014. Rom Boys introduces us to the now middle-age skaters, BMXers, and street artists who largely comprise the first generation of the park's history. Their stories come alive through interviews, archival videos, lots of photos, and music that any skater should love.
Lance Mountain is here, a ground-breaking member of "Bones Brigade" and still a highly respected skater, along with 80's TV presenter and MOBO Awards/British national race founder Andy Ruffell. Bob Haro, founder of Haro Bikes and BMX Freestyle legend shows up along with John Buultjens, now a Haro executive and a popular BMX figure whose story was brought to live in the film The Ride. Rom Boys also features international street artists The London Police, Gumball 3000 Rally founder Maximillion Cooper, original Rom Skatepark designer Tim Altic, and 50-year-old professional BMX rider Zach Shaw along with 30+ interviews with local Rom legends, heroes, practitioners, and ordinary joes.
While Dogtown and Z Boys gave us the picturesque seaside L.A., Rom Boys takes place in a suburb of East London known as Havering, one of London's poorest boroughs with rural Essex to its east and gritty East London to its west. Despite its somewhat surprising locale, Rom was built in 1978 during the initial years of the skateboard craze and has somehow survived 40 years of London winters, efforts at gentrification, and development to become the world's only full-size skatepark to obtain any type of historic recognition.
While the park and its village would be enough for a feature doc, right in the middle of filming a devastating fire threatens the parks viability even as skateboarding is prepared to take its place as an Olympic sport. Rom Boys becomes much more than simply a nostalgic look at a historic skate park - it becomes a vibrant video testimony of the local, national, and international legends who have called and continue to call the park home and how they unite in an effort to save the park and ensure it maintains its place in British sports history. Will their efforts be too little too late?
It would be impossible to not enjoy Rom Boys, a warm and spirited journey with contagious personalities who have endearing stories. Rom Boys captures it all beautifully and patiently, breezing by at right about 79 minutes and weaving a tapestry of British urban culture along the way. Skaters should most likely consider Rom Boys a must-see, while anyone who enjoys indie sports stories and/or films that capture unique pieces of history will no doubt find much to love here.
Picked up by indie distributor 1091 Pictures, Rom Boys arrives on VOD on October 6th through most of your major platforms.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic