British documentary On the Road to Dallas premiered at the 16th annual CaribbeanTales Film Festival- an enthusiastic entrance within the Women in Resistance programme. With a strong women presence, this film shatters norms forcefully imposed on femininity, through the expression of pure and undisrupted joy. Power can manifest in any mode – even in rollerblading.
Directed by Mathilde Marinet, On the Road to Dallas tracks the story of sixteen, UK based, West Indian women striving to make their mark at a roller derby competition. Throughout the journey, they open up their hearts and find unexpected community in one another. Themes of fellowship, identity, and passion are explored within this film, as the women embark on a journey to win the esteemed World Cup.
With a quick pace and constant state of movement, it is easy for any viewer to feel overwhelmed; however, On the Road to Dallas effectively keeps the viewer engaged with its clear, precise film structure. The film is carefully, and successfully, crafted into three acts – setting up the members, the prepping for the World Cup, and ultimately, the World Cup itself. This composition allows for the viewer to feel as if they are travelling with the members themselves. The story guides us through all of the factors, emotions, excitement, and fears that accompany travelling to and participating in a competition, far from home.
The central conflict of the story is simple; everyone wants to win, and no one wants to get hurt. These high stakes are even more increased whilst watching the aggressive bodily contact – this high level of adrenaline can automatically make the viewer grasp at their chair a little tighter, knowing that the consequences of a misstep is either losing or physical harm. In contrast, however, there is a certain level of safety that a viewer can feel while observing this story – it keeps us locked in by genuinely being really fun, authentic, and feeling like a safe space. The authenticity of the characters remains consistent throughout the film - they feel very familiar and relatable, and they are people that I’m sure anyone would want to build a community with.
The film brilliantly cuts between the quick, upbeat pace of the story, to intimate moments. The masterful contrast between energy and intimacy produces dynamics, allowing a simple topic to be even more complex than imagined. The structure of shots during the interviews was very visually appealing – the blend of medium wide, medium close-ups, and close-ups contributes to the various layers of the interviewees. The film is also rather bright; there is never a time where the subjects are blending in with their surroundings.
“The masterful contrast between energy and intimacy produces dynamics, allowing a simple topic to be even more complex than imagined.”
In terms of sound, there were various points where statements were hard to hear. The inclusion of subtitles would have provided clarity, as the noisy setting of the roller derby as a background for interviews was considerably distracting from what was said. The music also overpowered some subjects near the beginning of the film – adjusting the noisy location of the interviews would make for more comprehensible statements heard by the subjects.
The range of femininity is superb within this story. Through breakdowns of identity, the women in this film further prove that patriarchal norms of womanhood are subjective. This story debunks a false notion that has been upheld by society for as long as we can remember; femininity can indeed make room for strength, fierceness, and power.
Editor’s Note: On the Road to Dallas screened at the Caribbean Tales Film Festival ’21, as part of the Women in Resistance programme.