The Rolling Mill is a complex examination of gentrification in a small neighborhood in Cumberland, Maryland.
The film opens with a voiceover discussing the emotional baggage involved with selling a long-occupied home. Various shots of the featured community follow, beginning with the freeway leading to it and the individual houses as well as aerial shots of the neighborhood as a whole. Another voiceover explains that the government has opted to bulldoze the entire neighborhood to make way for a strip mall and some chain restaurants. Next comes a series of interviews with people on both sides of the argument—resistors to the change, the developers, residents who sold their homes, etc., encapsulating a wide emotional spectrum in response to the change. Some residents are resentful that their community is being destroyed; others are grateful for the change and the generosity of the deal the government has offered.
The Rolling Mill features countless shots of the neighborhood as it stands on the threshold of gentrification. The film opens with shots of the freeway, establishing the neighborhood in geographical space and allowing the audience to approach it as a resident would. Aerial shots are used to great effect. On the one hand, it shows the neighborhood’s rundown state as well as many of the gaps left by homes that have already been destroyed. The negative space creates a tangible absence which evokes the loss felt by the residents who have chosen to stay; however, it also highlights that the residents are hanging on to something that is virtually gone and perhaps better let go. Simultaneously, the aerial shots capture something aesthetically beautiful within the rundown neighborhood. The audience is literally able to see both sides of the argument competing in one frame. The scenes within the Rolling Mill’s church are also quite striking—they highlight the community that has formed within the neighborhood that is being threatened. They have a different kind of community that isn’t valued by the mainstream forces of gentrification. The film also lingers within many residents’ homes, often cutting to close ups of various keepsakes within the houses. The shots demonstrate the lives that the residents have created for themselves—it is not just the physical structures of their homes that are being challenged but for many of them it is feels like the very infrastructure of their lives.
The film also does an excellent job illustrating character via intimate interviews and economical shot selection. The first person the audience meets is Woody Gordon, spokesperson of the Save Our Homes Alliance; a shot of Woody working out with his punching bag in his home effectively characterizes his fighting spirit and unrelenting nature as he tries to protect his home. In contrast, Shawn Hershberger of the Cumberland Economic Development Commission is shown to be much more rational and distant from the situation, characterized by his matter of fact tone in interviews; his own frustrations with community members like Gordon are made understandable because of the excellent interviews collected.
The Rolling Mill highlights the fractures within a stratified community. The New Year festivities in the film—though considered a joyous occasion by all residents—reveal something deeper. Both sides of the debate love their neighborhood dearly but it is in how they express their love that a divide arises: for people like Gordon, their love is expressed in their desire to keep things in stasis while for others loving their town means moving towards change. For the government, a house and a home are synonymous while for Gordon and the Save Our Homes Alliance members, the two could not be more distinct. The Rolling Mill expertly navigates the complexity and serves as a microcosm for the wave of gentrification sweeping across the United States.