Ready to roll: Roller derby doc debuts at Art of Brooklyn Film Fest

Ready to roll: Roller derby doc debuts at Art of Brooklyn Film Fest
Leon Chase

It’s a new spin on an old sport!

You can catch a glimpse into the breakneck world of New York City’s premier roller derby league next week, when a thrilling documentary about the sport’s biggest star makes its big-screen debut at St. Francis College on June 3, as part of the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival.

“When [Suzy Hotrod] walks into a roller derby convention, they treat her like a rock star,” said Kensington resident Leon Chase, who directed the doc. “She’s currently the single most famous roller derby player in the world.”

Chase’s movie “Suzy Hotrod: Roller Derby Star,” follows Jean Schwarzwalder — the last remaining original member of the 2003-founded Gotham Girls Roller Derby league, who plays under the high-octane moniker Suzy Hotrod — as she jams her way around city rinks in three league games.

Roller derby is a competitive sport that involves two teams of skate-equipped female athletes cruising around roller rinks, racing — and smashing into each other — as players designated “jammers” seek to outpace their counterpart on the other squad.

Created by skating enthusiasts in the 1930s, derby devolved over the ensuing decades into something more akin to professional wrestling, where over-the-top characters and theatrical stunts eclipsed its athletic elements. The sport has seen a revival in recent years, with leagues like Gotham Girls and derby stars like Suzy Hotrod drawing young audiences to the nearly century-old spectacle, according to Chase.

“It’s enormous,” said Chase. “We’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of leagues all around the world. It’s doing very well.”

In his sports documentary, the Kings County filmmaker tried to capture the experience of a first-time derby fan. His camera work during the film’s first match is frantic and fast paced, and demonstrates the mayhem of a derby match.

“It’s very chaotic, I don’t know what’s happening when, and that’s meant to simulate people’s first experience watching roller derby,” he said.

As the film progresses, however, Chase’s shots focus on the veteran derby star, and he utilizes-slow motion techniques to capture the athletic grace that lies beneath the havoc.

“When you slow it down, it’s a dance, it’s a ballet, it’s a crazy interplay of stuff,” said Chase. “When you slow it all down, you see this elaborate drama playing out between every single player.”

Art of Brooklyn Film Festival celebrates Kings County’s cinema-scape, and this year features a whopping 56 films made by Brooklyn filmmakers, set in Brooklyn, or focused on borough characters, history, or themes, screening at theaters across the borough from June 1 to June 9.

“Suzy Hotrod” at St. Francis College (180 Remsen St. between Clinton and Court Streets in Brooklyn Heights, www.theartofbrooklyn.org). June 3 at 9 p.m. $15.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.