Gabriel Cordell Interview about the award winning documentary – “ROLL WITH ME: JOURNEY ACROSS AMERICA”

Q: What was the inspiration for the “Roll With Me” concept?

The roll with me concept just came about from the title of the movie. When I decided to roll across America, and document it, I needed a title, and came up “Roll With Me”. It just seemed like it was free-flowing and had a really good ring to it. When I say “roll with me”, it’s come on the experience with me, experience what I’m experiencing, let me share with you the things that I’m going through on all these different challenges. So come roll with me.  

Q: How did the concept for roll with me begin?

It began by a promise that I made to myself when I was eighteen years old. That by the time I turned forty-five, I will have accomplished something extraordinary. Something that no one’s ever done before, or something that very few people have done before. I didn’t know what that would be, obviously, and being in a wheelchair was definitely not part of the equation. It took me twenty years to figure it out, and rolling was IT. Once I realized that this extraordinary achievement that I been searching for, for twenty years, was rolling across America. And how that came about was from being a full-blown drug addict, out of touch with reality, just sulking in my own… I don’t know if I would call it depression, because I made a conscious choice to do that. All the way to knowing that my time to achieve this accomplishment was getting close. I needed to make something happen. I met a person who wanted to invent a new wheelchair, one thing led to another, then the idea of rolling across America came about. It came about from me, wanting to roll this guy’s wheelchair across America, to give him the greatest publicity that he could possibly get. That’s how it started. Then I realized, this is it, this is exactly what I’ve been searching for since I was eighteen years old. 

Q: The chair that you used in the roll across America, is that the chair you use now?

The chair that I used in the roll across America, was the chair I was using on a regular basis. My every day wheelchair. I don’t use it anymore, it’s retired. It’s hung up in my garage, just waiting to be abducted not the Smithsonian [laughs]. But in all my rolls, I use that chair that I use every day. 

Q: Why a documentary?

It didn’t start out as a documentary. It just started out as this goal that I had. Then realizing that it would be pretty stupid not to document it. Because 1) it would be pretty stupid not to document it, and 2) to have proof that I did it. And I know the story behind it, was incredible. If it was captured the right way, and told the right way, it would be an inspiring story that could change people’s lives. And it just made sense. It doesn’t happen often that a person decides to roll a wheelchair across America. 

Q: Are you the first person to roll across America?

Actually, it’s only happened three times, before that, in the history of the country. The three guys before me, they used modified chairs, so they built special wheelchairs. But they still had to use their arms. I’m the first one to do it in a standard wheelchair. George Murray and Phil Carpenter rolled across together, in 1981, and they had each other to lean on. In 1985, Mike King, went from Fairbanks, Alaska to Washington D.C.. It was all manual, but they had longer frames, bigger tires, they had handlebars. Phil Carpenter and George Murray had parachutes. So when you reach 45-50 mph, which they reached, they could use the parachute to slow them down. Which was an advantage, when you do rolling hills. So that’s where the advantage comes from, but they use their arms. Mine was just a little bit more difficult. 

Q: What’s the back story about how the idea for the documentary started?

It starts from the promise I made to myself when I was eighteen. It just took me twenty years to realize this would be vehicle to honor that promise. When I spent those five years as a full-blown drug addict, there was a lot of shame. A lot had to do with redemption. A lot had to do with redeeming myself to my parents. That I was ashamed for them to have a son like me. That I wanted to make them proud. I wanted them to know that they have a son who is special who has the will of a lion. And so there’s a lot of motivating factors. I wanted to prove to myself, that I can live up to the man who I think I am. I had a very high standard of who I thought I was as a man. And that was a very big motivating factor in rolling. Can I do the impossible? I feel that I can, but can I actually do it?   

Q: How long did it take to roll across America?

It took one-hundred days to roll across America. Which averaged 31 miles per day. 

Q: How did you train for the journey? 

I didn’t have a reference point. Because the guys [Phil & George] that rolled in 1981 didn’t have the internet. So there is nothing you can go to, to hear about their story. Even though they eventually posted their story once the internet came about, I saw a small article about it. Then I saw an article about the guy [Mike] who rolled from Alaska to D.C., but I still had no reference point. I tried to get in contact with them, and I couldn’t get in contact with them. So I just figured, alright, I have to stop the drugs, stop the lifestyle I was living, stop the smoking. [Gabriel shares with me an exact date and time of when he used his last drug]. The next day, I got up, I went, and I joined the YMCA, and that changed my whole life. I told them [the YMCA] what I was doing, and they embraced me, they sponsored me, they allowed me to train there for free. They gave me all the love, support, and encouragement I could ever possibly need. This wasn’t about the training for me, this was about getting my head right. This was about quitting drugs, quitting the lifestyle of the last five years. The most important training  that I did, was being at the Y and having that safe haven. That anytime I felt vulnerable to my drugs, that I felt like using, I would stop whatever I was doing, get in my car, and drive to the YMCA. Once I went through those doors, all of my ambitions, all of my urges, just went away. I started swimming and I saturated weight training, to build my core. Once I started building strength, I started going out, and I started rolling the streets of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. Then I went to the high school track three times a week. I would roll the track 50-80-100 times. Then I would go on the hills. Up and down the hills. I trained for eight months. I had to get up every single day, I would get up and roll. I rolled in one-hundred degree weather, I rolled at night, I rolled during the day. I didn’t even drive anymore. I would roll from Burbank to Studio City, to North Hollywood, to Sherman Oaks. I would roll to Los Angeles. I just rolled everywhere. I rolled over a thousand miles during the eight months of training. 

Q: What were some of the challenges you hadn’t anticipated? 

Here’s the thing, I knew everything was going to be challenging. I didn’t know anything to be prepared for, because I didn’t know. All I knew, was that I needed to train and get ready for it. And I could only go by what, instinctually, I thought I needed to do and my gut feeling. The hardest thing for me, was trying to find a crew. Finding my crew, was happening simultaneously, while I was trying to train. I needed to find six people, who were ready to commit their lives, to me, for four months, without pay, going across the country at five miles per hour. I eventually found a crew that could commit, three months before the roll start date, and we raised some money. That was the most stressful. The training was the training. I couldn’t get around it. 

Q: The documentary is now showing in film festivals across the globe – How has the documentary been received?

I’m so proud of it. It’s won awards in three out of the four festivals it showed. The fourth festival was SlamDance as a Special Selection. When you’re a Special Selection, you’re not eligible for Best Documentary or Best Film. One of the three awards included the Milan International Film Festival. It shot like a rocket. It’s been incredible. It just got picked up for distribution, and I just found out I need to get ready for three months of press junkets, screenings, and interviews. It’s unbelievable the attention, and everyone is happy that it is officially out into the world. It’s going to be submitted for Oscar consideration. The fruits of our labour have finally come to fruition.

Q: Now that you’ve been picked up for distribution, are there any upcoming screenings?

They are trying to get screenings, but there will be a premier in New York and Los Angeles. 

Q: Where can people see the documentary?

It’s going to be available on Netflix. They haven’t given us a premier date. 

Q: Where can people see a trailer for the documentary?

There are two websites. My website, https://gabrielcordell.com, and https://www.rollwithmethemovie.com. 

Q: What’s next?

I know what’s next, it’s a big undertaking, and if I can’t get a team to help me, I know I can’t do it if I can’t get a team. I’m talking about a team to fundraise and to film it. This will be an epic one, doing a Death Valley roll. That would be the most difficult, the most challenging one. It would be in July or August. That’s the point. The elements are completely foreign to anything… not that I haven’t rolled in one-hundred degree weather, I have rolled in one hundred degree weather. But when you get to one hundred twenty, one hundred twenty-five, it’s the dehydration, the sun exposure, the [temperature of the] asphalt, my hands, there’s so many factors. I really need a team. 

Postscript: 

Gabriel Cordell’s documentary has been picked up for distribution, it will be showing on Netflix, and he is preparing for the three month press junket to promote the documentary. 

Photographer, media creator, painter, and father. Bringing people’s dream projects to fruition. With a deep love for film, music, coffee, and the arts.