After watching Drew Barrymore's Whip It with her daughters two years ago, Robin Bond -- the Denver-based filmmaker behind the new documentary Derby Baby -- set out to chase down some roller derby dreams of her own. She didn't get very far.
"I'm fairly athletic, and had started skating a lot more again with my kids after many years aways from it and thought it would be fun to do something that involved other women," Bond says. "I started researching what it would take to become a skater, but then I learned what the time commitment was of the skaters at any level. I couldn't believe that these women had the time to to do this and were willing to put their bodies through so much punishment, or that they loved it enough to do it for free! I realized I didn't have it in me, but I was intrigued enough to want to look into it more as a filmmaker instead. I said to my colleague David Wruck, 'I don't know what this is going to be yet, but grab your camera and start filming, because these women are fascinating.'"
The roller derby community got its first look at what it's going to be this week with a new film poster (above) designed by Westword art director Jay Vollmar and the release of the first trailer for Derby Baby: A Story of Love, Addiction, and Rink Rash:
The film, due out this Fall in time for the 2011 Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) Championships (theDenver Roller Dolls are hosting the tournament this year, November 11-13
), is a wide-eyed look at roller derby and the subculture behind it as the75 year-old sport
navigates its own growing pains and tries to stay true to the DIY roots of its modern-day incarnation.
"That's been one of the biggest questions raised as we've been working on the film: How do you reconcile that DIY culture from which it sprung with this explosion in popularity over the last few years and the potential for it to become a big, profitable sport?," Bond says. "It's got more questions around it than answers. These women started this sport and they do it all themselves, which is one kind of awesome, but then there's the other view... What if it could be profitable and the skaters could get paid? Wouldn't that be good for the sport? Those are some of the questions that are out there, and there's a lot of sensitivity behind them because of the way roller derby went out in a kitschy blaze of glory when they tried to commercialize it in the '70s and '80s."
Bond and Wruck set out to examine the national and increasingly international phenomenon of roller derby, but ended up finding some of the biggest storylines right in their own backyard as the Denver Roller Dolls began attracting some of the sport's biggest crowds at the 1st Bank Center in Broomfield and the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls skated their way to becoming the 2010 WFTDA National Champions.
"All along we've been approaching this as a bigger story, but it certainly hasn't hurt that we have two of the biggest and most successful leagues right here in Denver," Bond says. "As a filmmaker you try not to be biased, but it's hard not to root for the home team. We have some really amazing footage from the 2010 WFTDA Championships when the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls won by one point against Olympia's Oly Rollers, who had been pretty much untouchable for the last few seasons. It was a really emotional moment."
Bond says she's become a massive fan of the sport -- her own daughter is now competing in one of the local youth leagues, and has even earned her own nom de derby as Carly Davidson -- but also says she hopes her film doesn't come across as one big commercial for roller derby.
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"I wanted to try to raise some important questions," Bond says. "For example, I'm fascinated with the whole feminist aspect of these women craving a sense of community and building a league of their own, but then there's the irony that it is also a very sexualized sport. There's also this whole struggle to grow the sport and be taken seriously, without losing the sense of fun and sense of humor that have come to define it. I think, without disparaging the sport, that there are a lot of questions you have to raise about what's going on here. There's a lot of delicious irony to chew on, and in a way I think that's part of the sport's allure, too."
Bond and Wruck are still finishing the film and will be traveling to Ireland next month, where American skaters are helping bring a new team to the world stage in time for the World Cup. Stay tuned for details on the Denver premiere, which should be sometime in late Fall.