There’s one really resonant lesson we can take from Farzad Sangari’s Mudbloods, a documentary that follows the UCLA Quidditch team to the Fifth Annual Quidditch World Cup in New York City. The lesson is this: the harder you try to convince people that you are or are not something, the more the opposite seems true.
What the players on the UCLA team want you to understand, what they really, desperately want you to understand, is that Quidditch is not a sport for nerds. Okay? It’s not! It’s a real athletic sport! And if you haven’t fully absorbed that yet, they’ll tell you again in the next scene, and the scene following that, and then in the next scene they’ll rap about it, because that’s what cool people do.
The thing is, these kids are totally cool in their own right. Any good person who believes in something and acts on it is cool in my book. And their desire to combat their supposedly nerdy reputation on camera is entirely justifiable. They’re going to be in a movie, for god’s sake! Let them say whatever it is they’ve wanted to say to the soccer players who giggled at them from across the field, or the girl who recorded them on her iPhone on her way back to her sorority house after class.
But Sangari has yet to realize something that is key to effectively communicating a message, which is, the medium is the message. In other words, it would do him (and the Quidditch players) good to cut all the dialogue where the team members are pressing us to change our minds about the game, and instead let the film speak for itself. Just give me the scenes where Captain Tom Marks motivates his team before practice, even if his words err on the side of lackluster and he stutters frequently. Give me more action-filled montages of the actual sport itself, even if they’re eclipsed by mellow-dramatic music compositions that scream, “Missed opportunity to use Harry Potter theme song!” Give me all of that and I swear I’ll believe Quidditch is cool. Just never, ever say the words, “Quidditch is cool.”
Sangari failed to replicate the splendid, tingly magic of the Harry Potter franchise so miserably, one has to assume that his documentary was made in an effort to entirely separate the real-life Quidditch sport from its fantastical origin. But in a clunky attempt to keep the documentary and Harry Potter somewhat closely tied, we’re introduced to the Greatest Harry Potter Fan in the World, Katie Aiani, who frequents the games, including the Annual Quidditch World Cup. She’s surprisingly self-assured and personable, at least compared to the rest of the film’s subjects. At the end of Mudbloods, she says, “Confidence is key in all of this. Because it’s actually better to be seen as a little weird and to be happy, than to not be the person you are.”
While this little touch of magic helps to keep the documentary from falling off its broomstick, most of Mudbloods is a wobbly ride.