I’ve really never known a whole lot about roller derby. Simply, I wasn’t around to enjoy it back in the 60s and early 70s when it was most popular. But if I had been, I would’ve loved it. People skating around in a circle mostly just to beat the shit out of each other? I’ve had dreams like that. And apparently plenty of other people have had these same dreams and they hold onto them with all their might. These people are the stars and promoters of roller derby’s yesteryears. These people are fighting to keep those bloodied and bruised dreams alive. This is their story.
In “Jam” we meet Tim Patten, founder of the American Roller Derby League, who has been dumping thousands of dollars into this fading pastime, struggling to keep it alive. He feels it’s his purpose in life and it helps take his mind off of the real world where both he and his lover are HIV positive. Around Tim is a cast of aging roller derby stars such as Alfonso Reyes and Larry Lee who continue to take their lumps and bruises thankfully in order to keep their sport in the public eye. Shot over seven years (1998 – 2004), we watch as these stars continue to thrash the hell out of each other, living their dream, often in front of crowds that consist of only a handful of people. But no matter the crowd capacity, these guys give it their all and it’s an amazing watch.
But along with all of the fun and violence, the human stories here are intense as filmmaker Mark Woollen seats us next to these players as they struggle through their personal lives, each of them with their own set of problems…and issues. But the addiction to roller derby is always there and that’s what keeps this emotional journey from becoming too depressing. In fact, it’s inspiring to watch these people battle the odds for that very thing that helps them get up in the morning.
“Jam” is rock ’em, sock ’em skaters…with feelings…and it’s an exhilarating ride.