Fans of roller derby are about to see the fast-growing sport depicted on the big screen, as Roller Life, a documentary from Appleton filmmaker Michael Brown, skates into the Majestic Theater on Dec. 17.
In the last 20 years, organizers have created more than 2,000 leagues all around the globe, including, in 2004, Madison’s Mad Rollin’ Dolls, which is currently ranked 35th. Dedicated volunteers have created a comprehensive rule set and governing body for the sport, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA).
Emily “Hammer Abby” Mills, who competes for the Mad Rollin’ Dolls, says self-organization is a lynchpin of the sport. “Roller derby was and is more of a community that created a sport to grow within it,” says Mills. “People within roller derby are the ones who built the sport from the ground up.”
Mills says the sport attracts a diverse group of women to its ranks: “It retains those punk rock, queer, campy roots, while also being an intensely challenging and competitive sport.”
Brown’s film follows Milwaukee’s Brewcity Bruisers for a year. It captures the drama of competition and players’ lives outside the rink, focusing as much on derby’s hard-hitting athleticism as it does on its vibrant culture.
“They’re moms, bankers, coaches, humanitarians and chefs,” says rookie Brewcity Bruiser Melissa “Killer Queen” Nodurft, who appears in the film. “Their lives were a fishbowl during the filming.”
“I have so much respect for these athletes,” Brown says. With Roller Life, he hoped to help “create awareness and stomp [out] misconceptions” that roller derby didn’t demand the speed, strength and endurance of other sports.
Nodurft says she looks forward to new audiences learning about derby. “Newcomers can only introduce new ways of thinking and add diversity to the culture,” she says. “The more the merrier!”