Dir: Daniel Hayward
Featuring: Katrina ‘Mad Mac’ MacDonald, Haylee ‘Seven Lux’ Hartley, Sarah ‘Barrelhouse Bessy’ Strong-Law.
The Film: It’s funny even though I have known about the sport of roller derby for a while now, I must admit that I don’t really know that much about it. Other than seeing some footage of the game every now and again on T.V. and as well as seeing it being used as the basis for the 2009 comedy WHIP IT, I’m pretty clueless when it comes to it. So when I was sent to review the new documentary THIS IS ROLLER DERBY, I thought that it would be a pretty good introduction to it.
The film takes inside into the sport of roller derby, which began in the 1930’s and soon became a hugely popular sport for many decades in the U.S. until all of a sudden it shut down for good in the early 1970’s. However 30 years later roller derby was given a whole new lease of life when a group of women in Austin, Texas decided to resurrect it. Since then it has had a major comeback in the U.S. and is now also played in many countries all over the world including Australia, which becomes the basis of this documentary as we follow two different Aussie roller derby leagues: one a more advanced professional league based in the city of Adelaide and one a newly formed league that’s just been established in the small country town of Ballarat.
I should start off by saying that while I don’t think THIS IS ROLLER DERBY is a great documentary by any means and it is basically a fluff piece of the sport but I still found it to be quite a decent and enjoyable film that looks into a sport that I knew little about. This film does a pretty solid job that explores roller derby from its beginnings in the 30’s to how it has become the fastest growing women’s sport today. We learn every aspect about the sport: from the rules to how it is played, how the teams are formed, the costumes, the politics of the game and even the how the players come up with their cool roller derby names (a lot of them were pretty awesome I might add like Barrelhouse Bessy, Violent Krumble etc.). Plus we can get some insightful interviews about from the players themselves.
While the American players provide us the history of the sport, the film puts most of its focus on the two separate Australian leagues that are based in Adelaide and Ballarat. Of the two, the Ballarat one definitely gets the most screen time since it is a brand new one that is just starting up. We get to see the Ballarat players as they organize in put their team from the ground up and the struggles that they face along the way. One of the things I found interesting in the film is how much roller derby means to the players themselves. A couple of the interviewees admit that they didn’t have many female friends growing up but once they joined a roller derby team they were able to socialize more with other women and as well as have a boost of confidence and self-esteem because of being around other women who had the same interest as themselves. Plus the film doesn’t shy from the fact that roller derby can be a pretty tough and that you can get easily or seriously injured. Also the film does have a couple of funny moments as well. My favourite is scene is where, after a game, one team go out and have a few drinks with two former players who use to play roller back in the 60’s, their reactions to how the game is played now were pretty funny.
While I did enjoy the film, as I did say earlier in my review I do think the film is a bit of a fluff piece. Not to say that it is a bad thing but I would to have seen director Daniel Haywood gone further into the sport. I didn’t feel that the film didn’t really explored as much about the history of roller derby as much I would have liked it too. The history behind it was quite fascinating and I would have liked to seen more of it. Also there were some other aspects about it I did find pretty interesting (particularly the politics behind it and how some leagues had to shut down because of it) but they didn’t really go too in-depth with it sadly.
Overall while THIS IS ROLLER DERBY could have gone much further with its subject matter but it did teach and inform me a lot about roller derby that I didn’t know before. If you are a big fan of roller derby, you will definitely enjoy this film. For everyone else who, like I was before, doesn’t really know that much about it, I’d say it’s worth a watch. It’s a solid introduction into the world of the sport.
The Australian DVD:
The DVD I reviewed was a screener, so I am unable to comment on Picture/Audio quality.
DVD details here.
Thanks to Bill, care of Eagle Entertainment for the copy.
Review by Bede Jermyn