I was out and about doing a few interviews today at the festival, so I only got the chance to watch one film. Don’t worry though; I chose wisely. In case it isn’t already obvious by now, I’m putting my usual theme weekends on hold for a couple of weeks, as my schedule is pretty much dependent on the vagaries of the festival organisers. Or in shorter words: no kids film today. Sorry.
Sex, violence and roller skates.
Benjamin Pascoe’s debut feature documentary tells the story of modern roller derby by focussing on the two teams battling for the TXRD League’s 2009 Calvello Cup: the Hellcats and the Cherry Bombs. Despite being one of the fastest growing sports in the USA, it still retains an air of ramshackle improvisation that makes everybody seem like the endearing underdog. But as the clock runs down, which team will come out on top?
Most of the documentaries I have been watching recently tend to be more politically minded or issue-based. This one, on the other hand, is more where my tastes lie; a real DIY effort full of charm and humour and casual – but friendly – violence. I loved it.
The film plays out as a series of intercut interviews with the players on both sides as they discuss the game and each other, with the championship match as a backdrop throughout. All the women that Pascoe speaks to share one thing in common: they all love each other, and not just their own teammates, but all the other players as well. You can really feel the camaraderie that holds the TXRD League together. It certainly isn’t money they play for anyway. It is implied that the players are all unpaid – most of them have day jobs as well – and the league is so poor that when one of the players gets seriously injured in the big match, players from both teams start passing helmets through the crowd for donations to her medical bills. Watching that kind of consideration between supposedly sworn enemies is quite a touching moment.
Shot on digital camcorders (frequently by one of the film’s participants in fact), the movie has a bit of a punk rock look to it that neatly echoes the DIY aspect of the league itself. This was obviously a labour of love for Pascoe, and he has managed to get some wonderful personalities involved. With names like Cherry Chainsaw, Miso Vicious, Alison Chains and Kate Or Dye (because her name’s actually Kate and she’s a hairdresser!) these girls defy all expectations. Far from the random brawl on wheels that you might expect it to be, Roller Derby as actually a very structured game and the players are very devoted and well trained. Also, I don’t know about you, but I am required by law to love any sport where the champion can be decided by a pillow fight.
You could say this is modern feminism in a microcosm – women who careen around a track battering seven bells out of each other while still embracing their femininity with their skimpy team uniforms (mostly consisting of fishnets and underwear-flashing skirts) – but I’m not sure the players or the film would agree with you. That seems like a bit of a lofty ideal for a movie clearly made with the simple goal of showing off the TXRD League and the personalities that are drawn to take part in it. Accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack of rockabilly tunes, this is not only a fun documentary packed with endearing characters, it is also one of the best sports movies I have seen in quite a while.
Leave It On The Track is another World Premiere for the EIFF this year, screening on Sunday evening and again next Saturday if you can’t make it.