In The Turn


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Crystal takes to the track
"Erica Tremblay's unobtrusive interview technique draws out personal stories that hint at much bigger social shifts."

Crystal used to love sports, her mother says. Then she started getting more and more withdrawn. Other kids were taunting and bullying her. They threw her in a skip. Then, to make it worse, her school said that she couldn't play in the girls' sports teams - just because she's transgender.

Stories like Crystal's too often have unhappy endings. She was only nine when work began on this film, but she was already questioning whether or not she wanted to be alive. Fortunately she has a supportive mother who has experienced similar prejudice herself, and who knows how outsider communities can support the vulnerable. In the absence of such a community in their backwoods Canadian hometown, she introduces Crystal, via the internet, to the Vagine Regime, a queer collective based around her old sport of roller derby - and everything changes.

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In The Turn follows Crystal's story as she makes friends online with women who understand the exclusion she's feeling, send her presents to boost her confidence, and eventually mount a fundraiser to fly her to California so she can play in a roller derby game with girls her age who completely accept her. It's a heartwarming story and viewers will enjoy watching this shy child blossom. But this is only one strand in a film that expands to explore the wider appeal of queer roller derby and meet other people whose lives have been transformed by it, reminding us that it's not only in childhood that acceptance matters.

Though the significance of roller derby in modern feminism has been well documented elsewhere, there's relatively little work on its importance to queer culture, and to the space where the two overlap. Erica Tremblay's unobtrusive interview technique draws out personal stories that hint at much bigger social shifts, illustrating the revolutionary potential in the simple awareness that there are other ways to live. Several participants explain how the Vagine Regime's focus on women has allowed them room to explore aspects of themselves that had no room to grow in a society structured around men. Eyes have been opened - and some viewers' eyes will be too - by the sight of large gatherings at women completely at ease with themselves, laughing and shouting and, out on the track, fiercely competitive. We don't see a lot of the games themselves but we get the point, and we hear a handful of tales of nasty injuries, but the only regret the badly injured women seemed to have is that they can't play any more.

Unusually for a film centred around a trans person, In the Turn brings in other trans stories yet keeps the focus on the sport and the community around it - transition is thoroughly desensationalised, just one part of life. There are also stories of same sex attraction which are notably free from angst, even though problems with prejudice are acknowledged. The film is a celebration of the joy that can come from living an authentic life with the respect of one's peers. Its meandering threads are bound together by the noise and colour and energy of roller derby, but what it has to say goes far beyond that.

Reviewed on: 18 Oct 2016
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In The Turn packshot
A young trans girl finds friends and self confidence through roller derby.

Director: Erica Tremblay

Year: 2013

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Canada


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