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By Pete Vonder Haar | March 13, 2007

2007 SXSW SPOTLIGHT PREMIERES DOCUMENTARY FEATURE! Another year, another roller derby documentary.

“Hell on Wheels” is the latest in the recent flood of docs about women’s roller derby and the resurgence of the sport that began in Austin, TX in 2001. Director Bob Ray follows the events behind the revival almost from day one, providing what has to be regarded as the authoritative version of events.

Roller derby, hugely popular in the 1970s, faded into obscurity by the ‘80s. The documentary “Jam,” released in 2006, looked at the attempts of the stars of those leagues to renew interest in the sport. “Hell on Wheels” is more concerned with the future of the sport and follows its rebirth from the initial brainstorming sessions and skater auditions to initial budgetary woes and some fairly egregious mistakes (lack of insurance for venues being a big one). It’s a detailed look at the ups and downs involved in bringing the sport back into public consciousness.

The film offers unparalleled access to the founders of the original league (Bad Girl Good Woman Productions, later renamed Texas Roller Derby / Lonestar Rollergirls), the group that split off from the BGGW (Texas Rollergirls), and many of the skaters themselves. We’re also privy to the huge number of meetings and planning sessions necessary to get the league off the ground at all (BGGW didn’t hold their first “bout” for a year and a half).

This fly-on-the-wall approach has its drawbacks, however. The audio mix is aggravatingly busy in a number of places, as lousy room acoustics and background noise render large chunks of dialogue nearly inaudible. And while the friction between the founders of BGGW and the Texas Rollergirls is interesting, those craving a little more actual arena action are going to be disappointed. “Hell on Wheels” may be the last word on the rebirth of roller derby, but it could stand to be a little less wordy.

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