Vagine Regime Documented:
‘Tour Diary’ of a queer film in the making
If you were involved in roller derby, it’s community or love someone around it in some capacity some time around last November, there’s a pretty good chance you heard something about the Vagine Regime Documentary.
I arrived in Los Angeles, and jumped in on the project at a time when it was well and truly destined to happen – the kickstarter crowdfunding project was in full swing, and some of the most amazing fundraising events were happening – queer hairdressing, silent auctions of some generously donated prizes, and the Weeniepalooza scrimmage and frank-eating contest were all funnelling into making queer roller derby dreams come true.
But it really was an incredibly moving story that came through to the Vagine Regime from the mother of a ten-year-old girl in small-town Canada that hit us all in the heart. She narrated the trials of a girl who’d had some serious trials in claiming her gender identity even by that age, who’d been cut off from mainstream sports, and who had found her heroes in roller derby. “I’m going to play that game, mom”, she’d said. And, we as a community were instantly affected, and galvanised into action – mere hours had gone by from the publishing of her story online when the tears of empathy had been converted rapidly into skates, gear, and support.
And finally the end date for fundraising hit, and had surpassed all goals, and come together to make it possible. This documentary was going to be made, and all of the support from around the globe was with it – with donors from Australia and Europe almost rivalling the efforts of those closer to home. All that remained was to gather resources, finish up pre-production, and start production!
production day one, San Francisco:
First shoot – we start with our first cast member – the formidable Demanda Riot, and it’s early. 6:15am wheels up, and Demanda appears skating towards us out of a early morning mist. This documentary is epic already, and we’re only just beginning. She talks us through the life of a travelling derby coach, the life of a committed B.A.D. girl, and treats us to a full face of her legendary make-up. This film is already well set on its way!
production day two:
A relocation to Sacramento, stomping ground of NSO extraordinaire Mister Sister. Infatuated with his derby name, he talks us through how it came to be. And then it gets to real talk time real quickly, as he opens up and explains how he met roller derby, donned skates, committed to his current life, and moved into NSOing. The whole crew struggles to not let the tears they’ve been moved to interrupt the filming, because we need you to see this, to be a part of it.
Later, I download and watch sections of footage we got, and marvel at the light, the angles, the sheer visual beauty that intensifies that moment and the others that came before even further. Throughout the coming days, I never fail to have that same feeling again and again, it’s somehow always unexpected, and brings home repeatedly how important this film is, what it might do in the world.
jam out with your clam out:
This trip varies between the cold crisp air outside and the sheer warmth of community as the bout and burlesque give queer performance and passion form in front of the camera and behind it. Two hours in the snow to get the right time-lapse image of the city seem like a gruelling but appropriate punctuation to all that heat.
shooting San Diego:
Driving down to San Diego to stay in the home of Summer Crush and Tough Soles, delightful kids, puppy and kitten. Director, Erica Tremblay (former captain of Angel City Derby Girls’ Hollywood Scarlets, Go-Go Gidget) has possibly her favourite moment of the documentary as curious boy’s enquiries about her film-making role leads him to ask “Can boys be directors, too?”
Summer’s interview is in the fading light of day, filtering through a window clad with a huge rainbow flag. And she shares her joy, fears, sorrow and love at committing to derby, to Toughie, and to this film. We wonder if we’re likely to get through a shoot without tears. And we manage to capture some beautiful genuinely joyful moments between the family as they throw themselves wholeheartedly into playtime, rolling down hills and flying kites, spontaneously embracing.
“Boom!” and “Cut” become new household phrases.
By this time, we not only know that this film is working, we realise it’s also going to be beautifully cinematic, thanks to the hard work of Director of Photography, Bodie Orman. And we also have an inkling that it’s got the capacity to change worlds. Our next trip only serves to confirm it.
Bloody Mary takes the time to sit down with us, and by the time she’s taken a seat, the sheer weight of her knowledge of the sport and its lived history comes at me. She starts to speak, and by the end of the shoot we’re swapping jokes, thinking about what it might have been like to gift roller derby to our younger self, and she’s telling us about her new commitment to the fire service.
the next day:
It’s the Fourth of July, and my first in this country, and I quickly discover that spending it with Texas Rollergirls at a pool may be the best damn way I could think of experiencing that holiday. As food is cooked, water splashed, the sun bathes us and then nightfall embraces us, the punctuation of the circle of sparklers we pass mirrors the popping fireworks in the sky, and every face is lit with joy. A quick rendition of the national anthem is wonderfully heartfelt, and punctuated with giggles as both dogs try to join in the harmony.
Fifi Nomemon leads us through her life with roller derby, and we spend more time with her and her lady love, SweetHurt. The moments they spend together are tender and affectionate, and the whole crew leans into their love, feels warmed by their enthusiasm for making and tracking down sustenance for us, and one another.
We sit off-side while she logs in and chats online to the very little girl who first wrote to the Vagine Regime, whose eye is the only thing we can see for many minutes as her hands fly repeatedly to her face overwhelmed with enthusiasm as she speaks to her own personal hero for the first time. Quick;y it becomes obvious that they need to meet in person, and Fifi commits to helping make her junior derby camp happen. A sense of renewed purpose fills the room, we’re ready to do even more with this project, and ready to launch into the next phase of shooting… RollerCon.
A blur. A dancing, talking, skating and completely badass collection of the derby community takes over the Riviera in Vegas. And our hotel rooms become Vagine Regime Central. We put a call out for people to talk to us on camera, and are honored and overwhelmed with the honesty and braveness of the queer community that takes their heart in their hands and opens their lives to us.
The bout itself is more vivid, more hard-fought and more emotionally charged than any made-for-film script could have managed. The vagina-suited queerleaders encircle a triumphant Team Vagine as they take home the game in the final jam. It’s an image I’ll be able to bring up in my minds eye for many weeks after, filled with grey and orange and pinks of the vaginas, and many a garishly brilliant rainbow.
On the final day, I almost miss him. He’s leaning against the wall next to the hotel room door, playing with his phone, thoughtful and seemingly disinterested in our to-and-froing. Then he transfers his attention, and quickly I discover I’m talking to the first transman to join a MRDA league. Another interview is in progress, and we hang out, waiting, talking, and he’s so reserved at first that I think you might not get to hear his story. But then we laugh together, tell jokes, I hear a story about an awesome duo move he and a teammate have worked out that uses his comparatively smalle size to barrel into the opposition, and I have a really wonderful moment when all at once I know this is a story we will get to include for you.
The solo drive home with the gear is snail-paced and might have been excruciating, were it not for that riotous compilation of lived passion and affection that collages across my minds eye from every shoot we’ve had yet.
We’re making a movie! It’s going to be colorful, impassioned, sad, joyful and filled with triumph and celebration of roller derby and the queer community laced through it. And the world might just be a little different, a little better, for it being.
Look out for it come 2014! Check in on vagineregime.com for more details.