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Published September 06 2012

Documentary offers insightful look into culture of roller derby, but lacks personal touch

FARGO – The hits and the falls in “Derby, Baby!” are many, and make no mistake, they’re definitely cringe (or cheer) worthy.

But the biggest impact of the documentary, being shown tonight at the Fargo Theatre, comes more from the in-depth examination of an international sport and its accompanying culture that will probably be unfamiliar to most viewers.

Created by Emmy Award-winning filmmakers Robin Bond and Dave Wruck, the film takes a look at the recent resurgence of roller derby, which has lately become the fastest growing women’s sport in the world.

For the uninitiated to roller derby, Bond and Wruck spend a few minutes introducing the basics of the sport and its rules and terms that become important to know throughout the rest of the film.

Then, through interviews with roller derby girls, coaches, owners, families, volunteers, announcers, fans and more from throughout the U.S. and the world, the documentary seeks to paint a picture of what exactly roller derby is and where it’s come from.

According to Fargo-Moorhead roller derby girls, who viewed a screening of the film earlier this week, “Derby, Baby!” provides an accurate snapshot of a sport and a culture that they’ve come to know so well.

“This is such a moving, evolving thing, it’s great to see a single snapshot,” says local player Maulflower (one part of derby culture is that players ask to be referred to by their derby name, and not their real name).

More than just providing a snapshot, the film asks some big questions about where roller derby is going as the sport continues to grow.

For example, Bond and Wruck ask questions such as how the sport should deal with sponsorships or contracts (all roller derby girls are not paid to play, and all players volunteer in some capacity with their team or league), or how the leagues can get more media coverage (roller derby is more often seen as entertainment rather than sport, several interviewees say in the movie).

And as international as the movie’s scope is, those challenges and dilemmas also ring true for local roller derby teams.

“It’s comforting to know that there are bigger leagues that are also struggling (with those issues),” Maulflower says.

However, perhaps as a testament to roller derby’s growth, the world of the sport depicted in the film has already evolved significantly in the two years since it was filmed, local derby girls say.

“Things have already changed, and we have a huge rule change coming up,” Maulflower says.

Of all the film’s thorough examination of roller derby as an organization, it only barely glosses over the more personal stories of the people involved with it.

“It didn’t really touch on the overall impact that roller derby has on women and children in general,” Happy GetLucky says.

“And how it can change your life,” Maulflower adds.

Those personal stories, the local girls say, are as important to the sport’s heart as its organizational workings on the national and international levels.

“When you join roller derby, you have no idea how it empowers you,” Knoxzer Blokhof says. “It brings out a lot of qualities that make you feel important.”

The local roller derby girls, who will lead a pub crawl following the screening, hope that the movie not only helps educates people about the sport, but also raises a little bit of awareness for their own leagues, in terms of participants and fans alike.

“There are still people around here who have no idea we exist,” GetLucky says.

Hopefully, Maulflower adds, people who see the movie tonight will especially feel motivated to come check out the next local bout (game) on Nov. 10.

“I hope people see this and think, ‘That looks like a blast,’ ” she says. “It’s nice to have something that shows what roller derby is all about.”


Theater: Fargo Theatre

Rating: Unrated

Time: 95 minutes

Three out of four stars

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535