Unless you’ve been living under a really big, heteronormative rock, you’re no doubt aware that the sport of roller derby is sweeping the nation. The lethal combination of strong women, action-packed game play, and an indomitable DIY spirit has made derby the fastest growing sport in the world. Erica Tremblay’s documentary In the Turn take a closer look at the queer world of roller derby, specifically the Vagine Regime.
The Vagine Regime, founded by veteran skater Injure Rogers in 2005, is an international queer network of LGBT skaters and allies. VR members skate together, party together, and support one another in what has become an enormous, queer derby family. The Vagine Regime also hosts several charity fundraisers and supports LGBT rights across the globe.
In the Turn profiles queer skaters across the country, but the focal point of the film is the journey of Crystal, a 10-year-old transgender girl from Canada who is not allowed to play sports in her school. Crystal finds a place for herself in the world of roller derby, one of the only organized sports with a trans-inclusive policy that prevents discrimination.
I had the chance to see the documentary when it premiered at the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in October, and found myself (a VR skater) profoundly moved. But this film isn’t just for derby girls and skaters: It’s a universal story of the queer experience and the challenges that come with being your authentic self. It’s a powerful film that will make you laugh, cry, and most importantly, want to bust out your skates and take a victory lap around the track.
I sat down with director Erica Tremblay to find out more about the film.
AfterEllen: You’re not only an accomplished documentary filmmaker, but also a skater, which came first for you?
Erica Tremblay: It is funny to do the timing on this. I actually started tinkering around with short films around the time that I discovered roller derby. I would say I have been attempting to do both for almost nine years.
AE: What does the Vagine Regime mean to you, and what first inspired you to make In The Turn?
ET: I was 15 the first time I was called a dyke. Two girls were hiding in a bathroom in the basketball locker room so I couldn’t watch them change. I quit the next day and didn’t participate in sports again until I discovered roller derby when I was much older. It offered an athletic community that allowed me to be me. Shortly after I discovered the Vagine Regime I officially came out of the closet and it was largely due to the fact that I knew I had a community of people that loved me no matter what. When I found myself in a position to make a film I knew that I wanted to celebrate roller derby and being queer because both of those things are super personal to me. I am an activists first and a filmmaker second. This film allowed me to merge the two and use my filmmaking to celebrate my feminism.
AE: I really loved how you framed the film around Crystal, weaving her narrative throughout the film. How far into the filmmaking process were you when you first heard her story?
ET: During our Kickstarter campaign, we received a letter from the mother of a ten-year-old transgender girl named Crystal, who was prohibited from playing sports at her school because of her gender. It was really hard for all of us to read about the abuse and bullying Crystal was experiencing. We asked Crystal and her mother for permission to post the letter to the Vagine Regime Facebook page. Within minutes, there were dozens of people organizing to donate skates and gear to Crystal. People were sending in letters and sharing their own stories about growing up transgender and queer. Everyone wanted to let Crystal know that roller derby had her back. It was the most inspirational thing I have ever witnessed. We instantly knew that this was going to be the story that would communicate the very best part of the Vagine Regime and of roller derby but we wanted it to be on Crystal’s terms so we just began a friendship and a year into filming she finally asked if she could be in the film.
ET: This is a really hard one for me as I am a mass consumer of all media. I love documentaries of all kinds, good and bad. I think there is something to be learned from watching any documentation of how people live in this world and it is even more interesting to watch filmmakers document those lived experiences through their own lens. I have recently been attending an open mic night in Boston where filmmakers can bring in any piece that is 10 minutes or less and screen it without any censorship or judgment applied. It is pretty amazing.
AE: What was the most powerful moment in this experience for you?
ET: Crystal is incredibly shy, but she started slowly coming out of her shell throughout the production. Her major transformation occurred right after she skated with the junior league in Los Angeles. We took her to see the ocean for the first time. She was laughing and running and jumping. There aren’t really words to describe how it felt to see her so happy and confident. I was crying so hard that I am surprised any of that beach footage is in focus.
Visit www.intheturn.com for future screenings and updates.