Film Reviews Em Dash by Hale Yeah

Published on May 10th, 2012 | by Em Dash

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Em Dash by Hale Yeah

This Is How I Liked “This Is How I Roll”

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the cast and crew screening of This Is How I Roll, the documentary about men’s roller derby (not “merby.” They were very clear about that) that was four years in the making. When I walked up to the tiny theater where the film was going to be screened, the door was covered in promotional stickers for bands and movies, and it was still locked. It felt very derby.

I was greeted with hugs and exclamations by the people standing outside already–a mix of current and former New York Shock Exchange skaters, along with the director, Kat Vecchio (aka Daizy Chainz, who skated for Gotham Girls Roller Derby during my first few seasons with the league), her producer, Joe Mihalchick (aka Maulin’ Brando of the New York Shock Exchange), and some other assorted people who helped with the film. As more people showed up, it felt a bit like a family reunion.

When we finally got into the theater, I sat next to Filthy McNasty from the Shock Exchange. He and I chatted about the GGRD All Stars vs. NYSE A Team scrimmage we had both played in a few days before, and I complained about the bruise on my back that was so deep it wasn’t even visible yet. He commiserated. He’s that kind of guy.

Bonnie Thunders and Suzy Hotrod both showed up a bit later, before the film started. I was glad to see them, since it meant I definitely wouldn’t be late for our call time for the bout against the CT Stepford Sabotage later that night.

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After a cast and crew picture, we settled in to watch the film. The early footage is very grainy, but they compensated for that a bit by making the production look intentionally gritty and keeping the bouncing camera shots short.

The film alternates between interviews with male and female derby players and refs, bout footage, behind-the-scenes shots at bouts and important meetings, and graphics such as an evolving map of where men’s derby leagues are year by year.

Throughout the film, I was impressed by how completely Daizy and Maulin’ (or, if you prefer, Kat and Joe), captured what I have always found to be the essence of men’s roller derby: it is humorous, self-deprecating, serious about the sport but able to take a joke. Jonathan R is the spirit leader of the Shock Exchange, and he speaks with intensity, passion, and a drive to win. But the film intersperses his interviews with snarkier or more skeptical interviews from Abraham Drinkin’ and Patrick Bateman that undercut the seriousness of his tone, almost like he’s being heckled by his teammates.

If that sounds confusing, don’t worry, it isn’t. It is actually one of the more effective tools used in the film. It is used again when talking about one of the central themes of the film, whether or not men’s derby is or should be accepted by female roller derby players. Bonnie Thunders, captain of the Gotham Girls Roller Derby All Stars, emerges as one of the film’s primary antagonists, wearing a “No Balls in Derby” shirt for her interview and expressing negative views about men’s roller derby.

The GGRD All Stars regularly scrimmage against the Shock Exchange now, so I was curious to find out how Bonnie’s views on men’s derby had evolved over time. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

DL: What did you think of This Is How I Roll?
BT:
I thought it was a interesting and informative look at the very early roots of men’s roller derby. For me personally, it hit very close to home since the storyline mostly took place in New York City and the main characters were fellow NYC derby skaters, the New York Shock Exchange. It’s always impressive when someone can gain footage of the early roots of any movement and in that regard This Is How I Roll reminded me of Hell on Wheels, but with a little less drama.

DL: How did you feel about your portrayal in the film? Was it a fair portrayal of your sentiments about men’s roller derby at the time the interviews took place?
BT:
My interview for This Is How I Roll took place back in early 2009. At the time I was very frustrated by the feeling that men’s roller derby was piggy backing off of women’s roller derby. I wanted the men’s movement to go through the same struggles that the women’s movement went through in years past. I wanted them to create something separate from women’s derby and while it might eventually become equal with time, there was a part of me that wanted something that men couldn’t have too. I clearly state all of these feelings in the film and I know there are others out there who feel/felt the same way as I did. I wish the film could have interviewed a larger pool of people, who had all different opinions about men’s derby especially so we could see a better cross section of women’s derby players and their thoughts on the sport.

DL: Have your feelings about men’s roller derby changed in any way since then?
BT:
My feelings about men’s roller derby have changed in the sense that I do enjoy watching it more than I did in 2009. I was lucky enough for the Men’s Roller Derby Association Championships to take place right in my backyard in 2011. The competition was fierce and skills level was really phenomenal. I admire the skill level of a few men’s derby skaters, specifically Speed Dealer from The Puget Sound Outcasts and my fellow Coach and [GGRD All-Stars] Manager, Abe Drinkin’, of the NY Shock Exchange. With regards to the men having built something of their own, I believe they have and am very proud of them for pushing forward their own governing body, hosting their own bouts and tournaments, and continually moving their sport in the public eye. In addition I am excited about the prospects for how WFTDA and MRDA can combine forces to grow roller derby world wide.

DL: How do you feel about female skaters scrimmaging against male skaters?
BT:
I really enjoy scrimmaging male skaters. Almost all of them are bigger than I am so it’s a good challenge to move them, control them and get hit by them. I think they enjoy the challenge as well, since I am smaller and squirmy and skate a different style than most men.

DL: How do you feel about female skaters playing against male skaters in public bouts?
BT:
It’s not a competition between men and women and I think public men vs women bouts only further this battle. We should be uniting to push roller derby forward, not battling for who is better.

DL: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
BT:
I just want to mention that I support men’s in more ways than just Five Stride Skate Shop sponsoring the NY Shock Exchange. I attend NYSE practices because it’s a challenge for me, and hopefully for them too. I’m hoping in the next few months I’ll be able to coach a practice as well.

Bonnie is not the only one who expressed negative views about men’s derby in the film. One of the funniest moments involves a heckler at a bout who yells at the guys to “play a real sport” as they’re skating around. He goes on to suggest a few sports that he thinks are manlier, including golf.

In general, the struggle of men’s derby that is portrayed in the film evokes the struggle of any startup derby league in the last few years. It is frequently a struggle against a generally indifferent world–against the distance between leagues, the cost to travel to opponents, unexpected problems that get in the way of playing (such as venue problems and slick floors), and the confusion and lack of understanding we’ve all faced at one point or another when we tell people “I play roller derby.”

I really enjoyed the film, and am excited that more people will have an opportunity to see men’s roller derby from the beginning through sympathetic eyes. Just like women’s roller derby, I think men’s roller derby is here to stay.

This Is How I Roll will be screening tonight (May 10th) at 9:00pm as part of the Seattle True Independent Film Festival at Central Cinema located at 21st and Union. A Q&A with the filmmakers will follow the screening. Tickets can be purchased here: http://thisishowiroll-eorg.eventbrite.com/

And for those of you who aren’t in Seattle, to learn more about the film, visit: www.thisishowirollmovie.com

Right now, Daizy and Maulin’ are doing a fundraising campaign to help the film reach an audience. Once they get halfway to their goal, they will release the first four minutes of the film online. Here is how to help: www.indiegogo.com/thisishowirollmovie

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Em Dash is a skater with Gotham Girls Roller Derby, which she joined in 2008 after a brief stint with Suburbia Roller Derby. She is also a founding member and Editor-in-Chief of Derbylife.com. For more of her writing, check out her new book, Derby Life: A Crash Course in the Incredible Sport of Roller Derby. (July 2015) http://www.gutpunchpress.com/

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About the Author

Em Dash is a skater with Gotham Girls Roller Derby, which she joined in 2008 after a brief stint with Suburbia Roller Derby. She is also a founding member and Editor-in-Chief of Derbylife.com. For more of her writing, check out her new book, Derby Life: A Crash Course in the Incredible Sport of Roller Derby. (July 2015) http://www.gutpunchpress.com/



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