Girls on a roll
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