Published on October 29th, 2013 | by Hannah Jennings1
Roller Derby Till I Die
London Rollergirls hits the small screen
There’s something magnetic about the London Rollergirls. Maybe it’s their steady rise to champs-level play, maybe it’s the many, many viral videos they’ve put out over the years, and maybe it’s Raw Heidi. Whatever the attraction, the folks at Rampage Productions and the Extreme Sports Channel in the UK have joined the London love-in with Roller Derby Till I Die, a 13-part documentary series on the girls from across the pond. Terminal City skater and DNN news editor Hannah Jennings was lucky enough to check out a couple of episodes of the show and gives us a taste of what the show has to offer.
What’s it like?
Each episode of Roller Derby Till I Die (RDTID) focuses on one or two people skating for London Rollergirls. Episode one (which we weren’t granted access to) followed the trials and tribulations of learning roller derby, seen through the eyes of Treekill Tart as she navigates her way through her first year. The London Rollergirls got to see this episode as part of a sneak peak event and gushed at how invigorating it is to watch someone take to the sport for the first time… probably because veterans get too hardened and cynical to remember the first flashes of love for the sport.
We were granted access to watch Episode 2 – featuring London Brawling captain Olivia Coupe and wife/derby machine Stefanie Mainey – and Episode 3, which featured b-team skater and Aussie expat Ruby Rehab. While each episode features what the skaters do for jobs, don’t expect the tired old “by day, by night” derby trope to be trotted out – production company Rampage Studios quite respectfully touches on the lives of the skaters before homing in on their relationships with derby and with each other.
“She is roller derby, in a person”
London Brawling double threat Stefanie Mainey is arguably the best skater in Europe, and one of the best in the world. In RDTID’s second episode, Stef is followed to Berlin in her role as Atom skate rep, and to America as London successfully toppled Rat City at Key Arena. The normally humble Stef has a few choice moments of confidence – “I think roller derby is special to me because I’m really good at it” – but it’s her leaguemates’ keen mix of admiration and fear that build her up as the powerhouse many WFTDA teams have met on the track.
The episode also focuses on Olivia Coupe, who is shown at work, at the home she shares with Stef, and sweating it out at the gym. Both women encapsulate what modern roller derby means to a lot of us – they’re serious about the game, dedicated to upskilling and strengthening, and 100% focused on winning and improving their ranking. The fact that neither Stef nor Olivia have derby names isn’t touched on during the episode, but for anyone who skates legit or champions the sport-over-spectacle direction derby has taken, this episode will speak to you on a level that previous derby documentaries likely haven’t done.
The Ex-Pat Ships Out
Episode 3 shifts gears and focuses on Ruby Rehab, an Australian native who is playing her final game with London Rollergirls B-team Brawl Saints before her two-year visa to live in England runs out. Ruby’s effervescence and infectious personality permeates the episode, and her exploits at work in a cycling café, on the track and at parties with teammate Goregasm show a good balance of super serious and still-competitive roller derby that happens outside of the London A-team. After a few failed attempts at staying in the UK (including a denied marriage proposal to a friend), Ruby plays her last game for London. Unfortunately for her team, it’s not just the end of Ruby’s time with them – it’s also the end of the Brawl Saints’ unbeaten streak. If you’ve ever moved leagues – or been part of a team with a broken winning streak – Ruby’s tears will pull on your heartstrings.
So should I watch it?
RDTID is a refreshing piece of roller derby media. Leagues all around the world have been crying out for legitimate coverage of the sport, and RDTID does this by showing game footage, half-time interviews and even full time scores. (It’s sad that after more than a decade of modern roller derby, having scores printed after a game is still a bonus for some leagues.) Rampage Studios has done a stellar job of capturing the people who play the sport without laboring on their lives too much or hyping roller derby up to the fever pitch that the sport was able to maintain in mainstream media for some years worldwide. Perhaps it’s because the show’s participants are suitably relaxed about the place derby has in the world and in their lives. After listing off how derby has given her friends, a job and a wife, Stef dryly concludes, “It’s given me an awful lot, given that I just consider it a sport”.
International release information
The Extreme Sports Channel will broadcast RDTID across Europe, Middle East and parts of Asia for those who can get the channel, but for North America, Australia and the like, it’s a big fat nope until further notice – distribution deals have not been secured as yet. An online release of the show should be ready to roll before Christmas, and an international DVD release is planned for early next year.
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