It takes a real man to hit like a girl.
After witnessing the disdain directed at men playing roller derby, two Brooklyn skaters have made a new documentary dubbed “This Is How I Roll,” portraying men’s struggle to find acceptance in the early days of the women’s sport.
“We started to see parallels to what people said about women’s basketball, that the track is too big, that it’s going to divide the audience and the sponsors, that men don’t look good in the uniforms,” said producer Joe Mihalchick, who skates under the name Maulin’ Brando for the New York Shock Exchange, a men’s roller derby league.
This conflict inspired director Kat Vecchio to begin filming in 2008 when she realized she had a rare, intimate view of a historic moment — when a group of roller-guys drove to Chicago to play one of their first bouts.
“When you make a documentary, you have to gain trust and access and there’s a lot of research you have to do about what preceded it,” said Vecchio, who once skated with Gotham Girls Roller Derby under the name Daizy Chainz. “We knew all that information already.”
The documentary is definitely an insider’s look at a rare moment in sport when gender stereotypes were flipped. Vecchio and Mihalchick’s skating cred granted them unlimited access to private practices and pre-bout locker room pep talks.
“The fact that it was a film being made by skaters made us accepted,” said Vecchio. “They had a little more faith that we would get this right.”
Faith and trust were crucial due to the sensitive subject matter. And the antagonistic feelings of many women towards the male skaters were understandable. In a world where men dominate most sports, women had sparked a minor gender revolution by creating modern roller derby through a worldwide network of women-run-and-operated leagues.
“Men don’t have a great track record of sharing the spotlight with women in sports,” said Vecchio.
While old-school derby televised in the 20th century was scripted like pro-wrestling, modern roller derby is a sport with complex rules and strategies. It’s popularity in the past 12 years in the United States and the world is clear from the many documentaries about the sport — and a blockbuster Hollywood film called “Whip It” — but “This is How I Roll” is the only film that focuses on the male perspective.
The movie brings audiences to present times, where women skaters have started to take men seriously — though there are nearly 20 times as many female leagues as male organizations worldwide.
“At some point, you have to stop changing your end cards and let it go,” said Vecchio.
“This Is How I Roll” in the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival at Founders Hall Theater, St Francis College (180 Remsen St. between Court and Clinton streets in Brooklyn Heights, www.aobff.org). May 17, 8:45 pm, $50 for all-access pass.