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Bowling documentary scores a 300

Photos by Matt Haas 

June 2015

Completed in an intense 48 hours in July 2014, "Rolling Underground" is a five-minute documentary on Milwaukee bowling alleys and the characters you’ll find out on the lanes. The film was entered into a contest sponsored by New Amsterdam vodka, who challenged documentarians nationwide to make a short on the theme "It’s Your Town."

Collaborators Alex Walzak (cinematographer and editor), Ben Allen (director), and his fiancée, Ann Kwiatkowski (executive producer), quickly assembled a crew to help them document something important to Milwaukee, and after a brainstorming session, they picked the art and sport of bowling.

With the plan falling into place, they hit the street to do interviews and grab footage at three local lanes — the Holler House, home to the oldest lanes in the nation, Landmark Lanes and Regano’s Roman Coin, which has the remnants of an ancient pair of lanes in its basement.

Getting compelling footage was not the only production challenge the team faced. Ann was pregnant at the time of the shoot, and shortly into day one, the baby decided to arrive two weeks early.

"I called Alex from the hospital, leaning over with contractions, and forwarded the e-mails and info over to him," Kwiatkowski recalls. She continued producer duties from the hospital bed, and her fiancé left the hospital around 1 a.m. to help edit. In tribute to the day’s events, the group decided to name the documentary company Newborn Productions.

The hectic, two-day period was worth it. After submitting the film, among approximately 100 entries from 30 different cities, they first won the city contest for Milwaukee and moved on to compete against winners from the other 30 cities. From there, they were placed in the top five, which were screened at an international film festival in Hollywood. They were announced as the winner.

"What? We won?!" Kwiatowski says, remembering her reaction. "We were pretty pumped on that."

"We’re really proud we brought a national award back to Milwaukee, presented at an international film festival in front of hundreds of people," Walzak adds.

Encouraged by their victory and supportive words from people who have seen the short, Newborn Productions is now looking to expand their five-minute documentary into a full length feature, spending more time in rented shoes filming the crashing of pins in local lanes.

"We only got to three bowling lanes — there’s a lot more history we didn’t touch on yet," Walzak points out, citing Falcon Bowl and Koz’s Mini Bowl as two examples of bowling spots they didn’t have time to cover.

But why is bowling so important to Milwaukee’s identity?

"What matters is how you roll," bowler Jack Fugger tells the camera. "And if you can roll a good game, it’s your town." You can find out more at

This story ran in the June 2015  issue of: