Directed by Hopi Allard, our new adidas by Stella McCartney campaign showcases the singular women of The Warsaw Roller Girls, celebrating their camaraderie, determination and spirit.
Hopi is a London-based director and cinematographer recognised for his atmospheric films centred on powerful personal narratives. Read more about him in our Q and A below.
How did you meet the Warsaw Hellcats Roller Derby team?
A few years ago, I stumbled across an article about roller derby. I was surprised to learn that it dates back to the 1930s and was massive in America in the 1950s, televised as a kind of mainstream theatrical entertainment. Nowadays it’s still theatrical in some ways, but not at all staged. In this article there were photos of the Warsaw Hellcats. They looked cool, stoic and exuded a confidence and bravado that caught my attention.
What inspired you about the girls?
Well first off, the Hellcats look really cool, each with their own distinct style and personality. Roller derby is a predominantly female sport, but unlike teams of men in contact sport that seem to create a jock like energy, this feels like a much more diverse and welcoming atmosphere. When I first met the team, I was inspired by how tight and family-like they all were on and off the track. Some explained that they felt like introverts or outsiders before finding roller derby and joining the Hellcats had provided them confidence and sense of belonging. Looking at them, I was surprised to hear that and found their personal stories inspiring.
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What was your inspiration when making the film?
Amongst other things, I’m always hugely inspired by locations and there is an abundance of striking spots in Warsaw. The collection is great and has these primary pastel colours which we managed to mirror somewhat with the graphic and kind of brutalist locations we found. We decided to shoot on 16mm to enhance these colours in the right way and to give the film a kind of timelessness. A feeling started to emerge. It sounds weird but this tight-knit group of women coupled with the graphic, empty locations started to conjure up a powerfully bewitching, post-apocalyptic subtext in my mind. That probably influenced the atmosphere I then tried to create.
Something that you touched on from the film is the idea that we can all become extroverts when with our closest friends. Is this something that resonates with you?
I wouldn’t say that this idea specifically resonates with me. I guess I’m always somewhat interested in the introspective thoughts that we all have. Maybe it was growing up with my psychotherapist father, because even when approaching a fashion film, I seem to push the conversation in that direction, stumbling across people you might not expect to expose those inner conflicts or internal concerns. Those honest conversations definitely spark a visual narrative for me.
Your films often focus on personal narratives and visual language. How did you develop your directorial style?
People are my main source of inspiration and the stories you can stumble across when you take a bit of time out to observe. That said I don’t think my films ooze gritty realism, I’ve think I’ve always gravitated more to films and music with a visceral or theatrical depth to them. I spent a lot of my younger years watching a lot of 80s David lynch, Cronenberg and Dario Argento films and love the heavy sense of atmosphere. I guess that may filter into the way I observe and present things.
How did you get into directing?
I never planned to be a director but I’ve always loved film; the process and discipline of it. As a young skateboarder I carried a high-8 camera all over the place with me and was always shooting and cutting on my VCR. My first job in film was at a small studio in North London. I got a job as studio assistant and lighting technician but then fell into editing. I had a random opportunity to assist Oscar winning editor Pietro Scalia on a Ridley Scott movie. It was a great experience that took up almost 3 years of my life. I spent the final year of it in LA where part of my role was to shoot these throw away, low-fi temporary scenes to help make decisions in the editing process. When I came back to England perhaps that spurred yet another side step: pursuing a career as a cinematographer. I stumbled into fashion films and about three years ago I finally started directing. Having done so many roles in film I have huge respect for the process of collaboration.
What was it like working with adidas and Stella McCartney?
It has been a great collaboration. It’s nice to be encouraged to approach the sports film format in a free and experimental way.