A girl is tackled to the ground by a player twice her size. Broom in hand, she gets up, dives for a volleyball and sends it through a hoop, scoring 10 points while narrowly avoiding a wayward dodgeball.
UCLA Theater, Film and Television alumnus Farzad Sangari will premiere his new documentary, “Mudbloods,” Friday night at the Crest Theater in Westwood. The film follows the UCLA Quidditch team as it worked toward the Quidditch World Cup last year.
The beginning of the film seems to promise a horrific experience as it alternates between poorly lit shots of the UCLA Quidditch club founder and alumnus Tom Marks talking in his dorm room and cuts from the original “Harry Potter” films. While the opening scenes seem to be campy at best, this effect quickly wears off as a true underdog story unfolds on the screen.
Sangari masterfully builds a story out of the interviews he conducts with Marks, the Quidditch team, the commissioner of U.S. Quidditch and ultimate “Harry Potter” fan Katie Aiani. The film breaks down the gameplay, history and athleticism of the sport as it exists in the Muggle world to effectively explain how an imaginary game has become a reality for college students around the country.
In the first storyline, the UCLA Quidditch team comes to life. In the film, the Quidditch players say they’re regarded as nerds and geeks, but they don’t seem to care. Despite the odds, the team sticks together as a judgment-free family fighting toward achieving its dreams of going to the Quidditch World Cup.
This storyline is disarmingly charming. Marks is the eternal optimist in the film as he works tirelessly to get the team off the ground and to the Quidditch World Cup by rallying support and fundraising. Yet, it is the team’s overall self-awareness that makes the players so likable.
At one point, three team members showcase their “Harry Potter” freestyle raps and express that they are acutely aware they play an imaginary sport. They say it doesn’t matter if Quidditch and their raps came from a made-up story because, at the end of the day, the sport has inspired a community that is real in itself. The team’s honesty and cognizance shine through in the interviews and ultimately prevent the film from ever taking on a mockumentary tone.
While the story itself touches the viewer, the action shots of the games stir a sense of fascination as they highlight the athleticism that goes into the sport. In Quidditch, there are seven players whose goal is to score points by putting a quaffle – represented by a volleyball – through one of three hoops. There are also dodgeballs that players can hurl at one another like bludgers. The camera switches between wide shots of the full pitch and closer shots as the players get knocked to the dirt by a rogue bludger while grasping their brooms between their legs.
In the film, Marks says many of the campus athletes joke that Quidditch isn’t a real sport, but this film would suggest otherwise. In this co-ed contact sport, players sustain full-frontal tackles regularly and are constantly bobbing and weaving around their opponents while only using one hand at any given moment. In one scene a player speaks gleefully to the camera while sporting a bleeding lip.
As the team’s story progresses, the film also follows the other end of the Quidditch World Cup with the story of U.S. Quidditch Commissioner Alex Benepe as he works to pull together the event. He fills the audience in on much-needed background of the history of Quidditch as a college sport as well as the current Quidditch culture. His story is intrinsic to making the viewer understand the challenges of launching a new sport and getting the athletic community to take it seriously.
The final storyline is about Aiani, known around the world as the ultimate “Harry Potter” fan. She provides insight into “Harry Potter” culture as an open community where individuals want to include everyone and share their love for the books. Aiani brings a very humanizing perspective to the film as she quotes the books and shares her impressive collection of memorabilia.
The three storylines come together to tell a genuine underdog story. Even the film feels like an underdog with its unorthodox subject and sometimes-campy feel. But by the end, the viewer is rooting for the Quidditch community as if he or she were right on the pitch with the teams.
For Bruins, this is a film to see because it’s a story that touches on the essence of what it means to be a student at UCLA. This is a story about overcoming obstacles, finding a community to belong to and ultimately following a dream, no matter how impossible it might seem.
– Kelsey Rocha