The niche world of roller derby is one that exists below the radar. Having peaked in the late 1970’s with Disco culture, the female dominated sport all but died out. That is, until the early 2000’s. What was once akin to the WWE is now back with a vengeance, and taking the world by storm. Derby Crazy Love, the latest documentary from Torontonian filmmakers Maya Gallus and Justine Pimlott, lifts the veil of mystery, and introduces the world to the sport, its key players, and the beauty of its doctrine.
The film moves as feverishly fast as the women who whirl around the track. From the first frame, it’s as intoxicating as the star players describe the sport. With over 1400 leagues around the world, the derby movement shows no signs of slowing down. “The world is going Derby!” exclaims Montreal’s Plastik Patrik, announcer for the Montreal New Skids on the Block. When it comes to derby, he says, “the weirder the better.” The Emcee is famous for his Frank N Furter-esque, Iggy Pop and Ziggy Stardust style, and is very much the New Skids’ mother hen.
The beauty of this documentary is that it doesn’t simply dissect the sport; it seems to accurately represent the culture that surrounds it. While it does give a very brief explanation of the often-confusing object of the game, this is hardly the focus. What Maya Gallus and Justine Pimlott have given us is a portrait of a culture, and a way of life.
Like with many counter culture movements, derby started in a grassroots way. The sport’s revival began in 2000 in Austin, Texas, with a group of women who just wanted to start a league. The skaters operated everything themselves, and gradually the fever spread.
We’re shown a diverse cornucopia of women from all around the world. Some scarier than others – you couldn’t pay me to stand up to New York Gotham Girls’ Suzy Hotrod – they all live and breathe derby. Happy to do it for free, they put every cent they can back into the league. Severe injuries are indicative of only one thing – the inability to play. This is the most devastating heartbreak of all for a derby girl.
All third-wave feminists, these women take pride in building this world as they go. What attracts them to the sport more than anything is the confidence it instills. “Most women are under confident,” says London Rollergirls’ Raw Heidi. “All the women that I know I think are unbelievably strong and fascinating and brilliant and inspirational. But I don’t think they feel that about themselves. […] Roller derby makes them feel that about themselves.”
The film deftly tackles the stereotypes of masculinity, femininity and the inherent aggression both genders posses. While it is a sport that started with fishnets and short skirts, it’s not about being thin and sexualized. There’s ferocity to these women, and a beautiful aggression that few want to acknowledge. The film tackles issues regarding unfair gender “norms” – a little boy can be a fighter, but a girl should play nice – and showcases the desire to stomp out the stereotypes.
The future of roller derby is as unclear as some of its rules. Proud to dictate their own way of life, if they want to go pro, some concessions may need to be made. But where does the line get drawn? These are the issues that Gallus and Pimlott leave untouched, because the state of affairs is still uncertain. But what is certain is that Derby Crazy Love is an inspiration. It’s depiction of the sport and its key players is infectious. It’s a true community, one filled with mutual respect and admiration. The feverishly passionate tone of the sport is represented beautifully from start to finish. By its end, you’ll be looking to dust off your mother’s old skates and hit the track.
Derby Crazy Love has its world premiere at RIDM – Montreal International Documentary Festival tonight, Thursday, November 14th at 7:00pm at Cinema du Parc. The world broadcast premiere will air on Global TV this Saturday, November 16th at 8:00pm.
Cinephile. Freelance Media Journalist. Motown Enthusiast. Amateur Photographer.