London-based director Fanny Hoetzeneder's new film is a 35mm portrait of the London Rollergirls: a roller derby group for women and non-binary people. Its title, Derby Kiss, references the skaters' intense bruises which they wear proudly, like badges of honour. The film is a fresh portrait of women in sport: raw, powerful and fearless. Featured on BOOTH, we spoke to Fanny about working with the Rollergirls, her path to becoming a director, and signing with Knucklehead.
How did you discover the London Rollergirls? What led you to make a film about them?
I discovered the London Rollergirls by contacting a friend of a friend who used to be in the team and over a Facebook chat we talked about skates and bruises. She put me up with the rest of the team and that’s how the collaborating with the LRG started. I was always very fascinated about Roller Derby as a sport and sub-culture and I also wanted to make a punchy feminist film that celebrated women and the ownership of their bodies. The need to make the film actually came after Trump got elected! After researching and discovering the culture of the bruises in Roller Derby I decided that I wanted to portray the team and the sport throughout the relationship with their bruises and how it made them feel proud and strong.
"(The Rollergirls) were never shy of the camera or themselves; they were always true to who they were as women and as athletes, in their skin and in their skates."
The rollers have a strong physical presence on camera, warrior-like in their stances. Tell us about the process of directing them?
Directing them was very natural and uncomplicated cause they were never shy of the camera or themselves; they were always true to who they were as women and as athletes, in their skin and in their skates. It was really great to get to know them more, especially when talking about their relationship with the sport and the bruises. Technically, it was also very useful to go to a lot of their training sessions so that they taught me the names of the moves so I could direct them to capture the visuals we needed.
Derby Kiss directed by Fanny Hoetzeneder
A theme of your work is groups of people who share a niche interest - roller derby skaters, car drifters, the heelwork community - all of whom have movement at the root of what they do. Is it a conscious choice that you’ve continued to explore movement through collective groups?
Absolutely, I’m also always curious about communities who are advocating for their passion to thrive. I also love portraying those kind of groups in an unique approach so that people can have a different perspective about who they are. Both car drifters and roller derby players originated from a passion project. I like the refreshing visual physicality they express themselves in but also what their passion stand for.
Is there a group you've yet to explore who are on your wish list for a future film?
I think the next one could be about marching bands performers. When I travelled to India earlier this year I saw a group in the middle of a remote village, they looked amazing and that really piqued my interest for a next film.
Belleville directed by Fanny Hoetzeneder
You grew up in Belleville, a small town in France. Your graduate film at LCC was also titled Belleville, a reflective, cinematic exploration of parallel lives within a sleepy town. What wider influence has your hometown had on you?
Where I come from has always been in an influence and catalyst to making films but not in the obvious way haha! I just never felt like I belonged there and grew up as a silent observer of the people and their daily lives. I guess it motivated me to turn to art and photography and eventually film as a form of creative escapism. Making the film Belleville was a bit like a therapeutical process of my childhood! I still feel attached to my hometown in a way I’m still trying to understand how it shaped me as a director. When I made the music video Turtle, I’ve realised that my interest for those car enthusiasts came from seeing similar guys doing donuts in their cars in Belleville.
Was there a defining moment for you in deciding to become a director?
I basically watched 2001: A Space Odyssey and that was it. That’s literally what made me want to become a director! And when you watch films like that in the middle of a sleepy French town, it really resonates, even though I didn’t know what the hell the film was about! I was also very much into photography and was given a camera to experiment on family and friends. That developed my sense of composition and visual storytelling which is how I approach all of my films.
You’re represented by Knucklehead, what was your journey from making your first film to being on the roster?
I made my first short film at 22 when graduating from London College of Communication. When you’re an undergraduate film student there’s not that many options in terms of becoming a director but I was lucky enough to be able to learn the skills of Creative Research which is essentially a director’s assistant. That’s when Knucklehead hired me as an in-house researcher and through the next couple of years they helped me build my directing experience. I then made Turtle as a passion project because I really love Jon Cooper’s music and also wanted to make a film about car drifters for a long time. It turned out surprisingly well for a no budget thing and that’s when Knucklehead decided to put me on their roster while using that momentum of the video.
What are you working on next?
At the moment, I’m mainly bidding and hustling my way through music videos and branded content pitches but I’m also in early development of writing a feature film.
Finally, what movie directed by a woman do you recommend?
I’m a sucker for period dramas and the first film that came to my mind when reading your question was The Piano by Jane Campion.
► Watch Derby Kiss