Girls on a roll

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

Dur­ing the 1930s, roller derby – in which block­ers try to pre­vent the op­pos­ing team’s jam­mer from pass­ing them and thereby ac­quir­ing points – be­came one of the first US sports in which women played by the same rules as men. The con­tem­po­rary in­car­na­tion of the sport re-emerged at the turn of the mil­len­nium, re­plete with a the­atri­cal new wave Rosie the Riveter aes­thetic. It took an­other 10 years for the sport to es­tab­lish it­self in Ire­land, and film­maker Laura McGann, was there from the first shove.

If you’re ex­pect­ing sis­ter­hood on wheels or the ir­re­sistible clout of a sport­ing un­der­dog nar­ra­tive, Rev­o­lu­tions may dis­ap­point. There is a fe­roc­ity about roller derby, a fe­roc­ity that of­ten ex­tends off the tracks. The tim­ing doesn’t help. As the di­rec­tor be­gan chron­i­cling the ri­val­ries between Dublin Roller Girls, the first Ir­ish team, and their fierce Lee­side ri­vals the Cork City Fire­birds, in 2011, many of the women were strug­gling against the eco­nomic cri­sis.

The first-ever roller derby World Cup in De­cem­ber 2011 in Toronto, Canada forces the Dublin and Cork teams to work to­gether, but it’s an uneasy al­liance. The Cork women com­plain that their Dublin equiv­a­lents have no in­ter­est in hang­ing out or bond­ing. As the tour­na­ment goes on, the sim­mer­ing re­sent­ments against Vi­o­lent Bob, the Dublin turned na­tional coach, boil over. “How can we say we should have won it? We didn’t!” thun­ders the tal­is­manic Cork player Crow Jane, at the sug­ges­tion of a moral vic­tory.

Post-world cup, there’s a gen­uine sour­ness between the two crews and, fi­nally, a creep­ing dis­sat­is­fac­tion within the teams them­selves, as fric­tions arise between those who take it very se­ri­ously and those who don’t . Elsewhere, preg­nancy, eco­nomic mi­gra­tion, and the con­stant demands of the sport get in the way.

And yet, roller derby rolls on, shoul­der­ing such im­ped­i­ments out of the way. Laura McGann spent five years on the project, and by golly, it shows. This is the hip, lively, ami­able brusier of a film the sport de­serves.

Hip, lively: Rev­o­lu­tions

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