Eric Francis Martin, Farzad Sangari
October 22, 2014 (Netflix)
From the very first scene, Mudbloods does not hide the fact that is a documentary about the misfits behind the real-life incarnation of Quidditch just as much as the sport itself. Focusing primarily on the team based out of UCLA and surrounding schools, the 82-minute film delves into the growing world of taking a sport that originated in the Harry Potter books and making it into a legitimate collegiate sport.
Mudbloods is filmed in mostly chronological order, taking you from when the sports was no bigger than a group of college students playing on the lawn of a UCLA building all the way to their championship tournament in New York City consisting of hundreds of teams. It is also the first feature film from Iranian-born filmmaker Farzad Sangari.
As I stated previously, the plot of the film is set up to be all about the real-life version of Quidditch. Especially in the first half of the documentary, it gets pretty deep into the nitty-gritty of the rules and how they are translated from a fictional world into the real world with its lack of flying brooms and severely low number of practicing wizards. From what I can tell, being the most casual of Harry Potter fans, the sport does a pretty good job staying faithful to the original Quidditch as they can, given the limitations.
The film does a good job of explaining just enough to get you up to speed on how the game works. It’s seven-on-seven, there are Beaters, Bludgers, Chasers, and others you’d expect (including a “snitch” being played by a person that has a tennis ball in a sock tied behind their back), and everyone runs around with a broom. The details are quickly explained then it gets on to the real meat of the documentary – the people.
A lot of the details, which could otherwise have dragged and been boring, were explained through short clever animations. They were nothing special, but helped to break up the constant close-up interview shots nicely and gave the film some personality. Probably my favorite thing about the game itself (and the way it is portrayed in Mudbloods) is how the students implement the snitch. The fact that he can run around campus anywhere he pleases is pretty entertaining, and the film did a good job of showing how it works and made it a joy to understand and learn about.
Like a lot of great documentaries, what Mudbloods is set up to be about is not what it actually ends up being about. It’s clear from the beginning that the film is a character study on the group of students organizing the sport just as much as the sport itself. While it is about the origin story of a sport on the rise, it’s also a documentary about the struggle to fit in, the desire to go against the grain, and the rebel spirit and drive that can lead to accomplishing great things.
Sangari does a great job to avoid poking fun at the geeks and nerds that he is interviewing and organizing into a full-length documentary. Almost every single person involved could have easily been painted as weird or made fun of with different directions in the editing or interviews, but a lot of care is clearly taken to avoid this. There is a great sense of focus and, despite the ridiculous sounding premise of bringing Quidditch to life, everyone’s struggles are taken seriously and have a serious weight to them. The head of the International Quidditch Association wears a top hat and holds a cane most of the time he’s on camera for heaven’s sake, but it never feels like the film is mocking him in any way. You are taking a ride on his journey and properly feel all the weight that he does as he spends $15,000 on a credit card to fund his dream and host a massive tournament.
There were a few sections where the documentary dragged a bit, though. Whenever there were sequences showing a Quidditch game in progress with no voice overs, it felt like wasted time. Sure, it’s put together well enough, with its heart-pounding music and quick cuts, but I understood how the game worked and the point of it pretty much after the first twenty minutes. A quick glance over the games during the big end tournament would have been more than enough, but quite a bit of time is spent on each game instead. Maybe it just comes from being not that huge of a Harry Potter fan, but I was far more interested in the people behind the game than I was Quidditch itself.
Another minor problem were the frequent cuts during interviews. I’m all for showing surrounding objects and set pieces while interviewing someone to keep it from being stale, but there were points where it got a little absurd. During the opening few interviews in particular, there is just cut after cut after cut with nothing lingering more than half a second. It was borderline nauseating and felt like a bad YouTube video.
But overall, those are only minor quips in what is otherwise a very interesting and well put together documentary. Don’t be intimated or afraid to watch if you have no interest in Quidditch or Harry Potter whatsoever – you will never be drowned out with in-depth lore, but just given what information you need for the game then guided into seeing the interesting and varied students behind the phenomenon. You will most likely not come away from Mudbloods with any profound revelation or understanding of something entirely new, but maybe an appreciation for the hard work that gets put into something you never even knew existed.
Mudbloods is available for download at mudoodsmovie.com.