Roller derby documentary Revolutions is “a study in sacrifice and how far that will get you” says Dara Higgins
Your only previous knowledge of Roller Derby might stem from Whip It, or maybe you remember the James Caan bloodfest Rollerball from the seventies. It’s nothing like Rollerball. The rules are explained, but still seem esoteric. That, however, never detracts from the enjoyment.
The film starts with Ireland’s nascent Roller Derby league. There’s essentially 2 teams, Dublin and the Cork Firebirds. Initially they only have each other to play, but before long they have to put enmity aside in order to play at the inaugural Roller Derby World Cup, held in Canada. Drawn in a tough group against Argentina and England, the ladies are expected to play at a much higher level than ever before. Results are mixed.
Head coach Bob has a nice line in motivational platitudes, particularly in defeat. “Players win games, but coaches lose them” someone ominously intones. Bob himself admits to being inexperienced, and his lack of nous causes a rift within the team, tectonically shifting along the Dublin/Cork divide. It’s Saipan all over again. Moral victories won’t cut it at this level. Turns out these heads are as combative off the pitch as they are on. View are exchanged.
The schism within team is marked in the film, as it splits mainly between Dublin’s head coach Bob and his fiancé and player Kitty, and Cork Firebird’s founder Crow Jane.
Being an amateur sport, played for the sheer bloody thrill of it all, real life and its vagaries are never far from hand. Economic reality forces the hand of many competitors. They need to spend time trying to cobble together the rent, and not training or coming up with strategy, travelling, etc. Often players can’t make practice, or need to move town in order to find work. Crow Jane, among others, struggles to make ends meet in a depressed Ireland. What should be proving to be light relief becomes a burden.
Sport is full of stories of self-sacrifice and determination. That’s how you make it. You give up a social life to get better at what it is you love. You eat correctly and train. You think about your vocation constantly. If you’re good enough you might earn the undoubted privilege of representing your country on the world’s stage. It should mean something, but it’s hard to keep going in a niche interest sport. If you’re not making enough to pay the rent by playing Derby, you gotta make it somehow. The sport, like many hobbies, gets eaten by mundane grind of reality.
That’s what this film is about. It’s an introduction to Roller Derby, a frenetic and exhilarating sport, and a study in sacrifice and how far that will get you. On the plus side, unlike Rollerball, no one dies. So there’s that. And maybe the extra exposure will take this underground sport in the mainstream. Who knows? Certainly the protagonists don’t lack for effort, passion or knowledge.
Well worth you time.
Revolutions will be released in Irish cinemas on Friday June 30th.