2017 Milwaukee Film Festival – Review – ROLLER LIFE
The Brew City Bruisers is Milwaukee’s roller derby league, which has developed a small but devoted following over the years. ROLLER LIFE is a documentary highlighting the women that make up the league as part of the Cream City Cinema program at the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival. These women, who come in all shapes, sizes, and from a variety of backgrounds in the Milwaukee area are given a richly deserved spotlight in ROLLER LIFE.
As a no budget feature, certain concessions to the realities of what the filmmakers have for tools have to be made. ROLLER LIFE has good intentions but doesn’t have the resources of even a low budget independent film. Sound, video quality, music, etc. is clearly not top shelf quality, but I find that generally forgivable for such an effort. Especially since the intentions are definitely sincere.
Still, good intentions have limits. While it’s easy to forgive a lack of resources, it’s much harder to forgive a lack of focus or structure. The film splits its attention between profiles of an assortment of individual participants, peeks at the camaraderie of the teams, and the matches leading up to the league championship and doesn’t really do justice to any of the individual threads. In particular, I think we barely get past introductions of the various individuals and never see what really drives and motivates them on a deeper level. Which is a shame, since the profiles of the individuals is the most consistently engaging parts of the film.
The least engaging is the matches themselves. Partly because the film struggles with making them compelling drama, and the play by play commentary really doesn’t work in this context, and partly because the drive for a championship seems down on the list of motivating factors behind self actualization, individual expression, and female camaraderie. The fact that lipstick, makeup, colorful additions to the uniforms, and wrestling like names are part of the sport, and there are a lot of tattoos on the participants, gives us an insight to these women as individuals as much as, if not more than, the profile segments. Frankly, I think watching the teams have a few beers and celebrate their victories / mourn their defeats afterwards would end up being more watchable than what is presented as the matches.
We can all understand the rewards and allures of professional sports. The appeal of roller derby is quite different. These are women that could be standing next in line to us at the supermarket. The sport derives meaning from these women, and while their may be a symbiotic relationship between the sport and the participants, you tend to get the feeling that the sport is merely the outlet rather than the core meaning. ROLLER LIFE, which is entertaining and insightful enough, seems like the first draft of what could be a really interesting film. That’s okay for a festival setting, especially since it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the participants show up for the screenings and deserve to have a beer or two bought for them afterwards.
ROLLER LIFE will be playing once more at the 2017 Milwaukee Festival. The next screening is Tuesday, October 10, 2017 at 3:30 pm at the Times Cinema. Tickets can be purchased online at the Milwaukee Film Festival website or at box office locations at various venues. The 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from September 28 to October 12, 2017.