Oct 07, 2014

Posted by: Brad Ausrotas


I have played Quidditch. Yes indeed. At LeakyCon 2014, I put a broom between my legs and played Chaser in the LeakyCon vs. Harry Potter Alliance Quidditch match. I understood the concept of Quidditch before that point. I had a vague idea of the rules. But until I played in that grueling 20 minute match, I had absolutely no idea how much physical exertion is involved in the game.

Quidditch is a marathon sport. You don’t stop ’til you drop, or until someone catches the snitch, and playing the game myself gave me so much more respect for those who do it professionally. And so imagine my delight when I was given the opportunity to screen the upcoming documentary MUDBLOODS, which follows the saga of  the UCLA Bruins Quidditch team and their dream of playing in the 2011 Quidditch World Cup in New York City.

I had a lot of thoughts about what the film would or could be like going in, and I was very pleasantly surprised by the end. MUDBLOODS is not a perfect film, but it does manage to capture the visceral thrill of the sport, and help outside audiences to understand just exactly what something like this can mean to people.

First, let’s talk about the name. I still can’t decide whether I like it or not. To an outsider, the word Mudblood has no connotation at all, it means nothing- certainly not something associated with wizards, sports, or wizardly sports. For us magical types, it has a decidedly unsavory note- being, by definition, a slur based around blood purity. In the context of the film, it makes some sense- the people involved in this sport are people from a non-magical background bringing something magical to life. But that conveniently ignores that the term ‘Muggleborn’ is the correct way to refer to people with magic that have no wizarding parentage.

This is but one of many parts of the film where the filmmakers struggle with their outsiders’ perspective, and it really is one of the main flaws of the movie, as far as I’m concerned. The film, and by extension some of the people who play Quidditch, cannot decide whether they are nerds for playing a sport on broomstick or not, and whether they should be proud or ashamed of this. And so the film takes the pride and shame in equal measure- focusing on the frustrations of the players and the IQA to be taken seriously by other athletes- but also giving attention to the caring and supportive community that surrounds the sport, where players don’t judge each other and are proud to be who they are.

I’ve seen documentaries about Potter before. We Are Wizards focuses on the Potter phenomenon at large and was directed by somebody also from the outside, seeking to understand the cultural power of the Potter universe. It was fantastic. Similarly, The Wizard Rockumentary was a documentary focusing solely on the fandom-specific wonder of wizard rock. It was made by fans and for fans, and also captured an excellent and unique angle. So I’ve seen this done before. And in both cases, the filmmakers handled the subject well. In The Wizard Rockumentary, it was with the loving reverence of fans. In We Are Wizards, it was with the respect and admiration of an outsider seeking to understand. I’m not sure that MUDBLOODS aspires to the respect of these two films in its tone, and it may be because the people involved in the film are not so unified as our wonderful fandom.

Quidditch players come from all over, with lovers of the books and people who had never so much as watched one of the movies both taking part in the sport. This jives with the official stance of the IQA, which is that Quidditch is separate and distinct from the rest of the Potter world. Of course this is a tenuous line to walk, because Quidditch as a sport owes its very existence to the books that J.K. Rowling wrote. But then there are also legal considerations, as well as that fierce desire to be legitimized in the athletic world, that perhaps go a ways to explain this arms-length approach.

MUDBLOODS attempts to offset this by bringing in Katie Aiani, a Harry Potter super-fan who speaks at length about her love of the books and what they have meant to her. These scenes are frankly out of place and awkward in terms of pacing. While it is nice to have more context provided to the greater Potter phenomenon, Aiati’s personal anecdotes do very little to make members of the fandom feel connected with the film, and equally little to bridge the gap between outside audiences and the larger phenomenon. Given that the IQA does exist slightly adjacent (but by no means separate) from the fandom, this connection could have been better integrated than a passing reference to conventions, musicals, and wizard rock. And no offense to Ms. Aiati, but I think a better choice would have been to talk to the players who have fandom connections.

So the voice of the film is a bit stunted, but the narrative is mostly strong. It’s divided into two streams, with one following Captain Tom Marks and his team, the UCLA Bruins, in their goal to raise enough money to travel to NYC and play in the World Cup, and the other following IQA founder Alex Benepe as he makes preparations for the 2011 World Cup, and then oversees it as it happens. The narrative works mostly well- particularly the UCLA story. This is mostly thanks to the narrative focus on the enigmatic Mr. Marks, who is a strong leader for the team, and a true focal point for the film to revolve around. Through his efforts captaining, he has a strong underdog team that stands a good chance in the World Cup. Thanks to his leadership efforts, the team manages to fundraise enough money to allow them to travel to New York.

This is where the film truly shines. The narrative is about the journey, the people, and their dream. The UCLA team are a varied bunch, but all have a true love for the sport and really demonstrate this throughout the film. Mr. Marks, in particular, motivates and inspires his team in ways that other sports would be envious to have.

The narrative does kind of taper out on the IQA side, though. There is some mild drama before the World Cup that ultimately leads nowhere and is never brought up again. The footage shot during the World Cup mostly consists of following Benepe around as he oversees things and gives interviews. Benepe is best described as delightfully eccentric, but the segments of the film devoted to him fall flat because there’s no narrative, no drama. Undoubtedly there could be an entire documentary devoted to the Quidditch World Cup, and MUDBLOODS sometimes feels like its aspiring to take that spot. But ultimately it massively underdelivers on that front, always returning to its central narrative of UCLA, leaving these IQA segments feeling like out of place filler.

Speaking of out of place filler- there’s plenty of it. It spans everything from the rap careers of some of the UCLA players, to Katie Aiani’s wand for her future child, and Alex Benepe driving around in a golf cart pointing out the Ford Anglia parked on the grounds of the World Cup.  The film clocks in at an hour and 25 minutes, but if you actually removed all of the extraneous scenes that ultimately don’t serve the narrative, the film would probably clock in closer to an hour. Maybe less. Again, the desire to be taken seriously- in this case to have a feature length film- overrides the best choice: vigorous editing to have a higher-quality film. The story of UCLA is extremely compelling, and so it’s disappointing that it didn’t just get more footage, perhaps more back story about the team and how it was founded, instead of these half-baked attempts to broaden the scope of the film.

The film also suffers from a few other wonky aspects- the animation, for example. There are animated overlays and interludes, and the art is goofy and light-hearted, a lot like Quidditch. But it’s also pretty sloppy and poorly drawn, which, in longer segments, really detracts from the legitimacy of the film. It ends up looking like the work of a 12 year with Macromedia Flash back in the early aughts. I feel like the animation really could have benefited from the skills of somebody like Domics, who is nothing if not light-hearted and goofy, but also a very good animator.

The film really hits its stride once the World Cup begins, however, around the 40 minute mark. The tension flares, as UCLA really does have a good team, but favorites Middlebury quickly crush them in one of the pool round matches. The whole tournament is really well paced, and features some truly excellent cinematography throughout the various matches. The film also manages to find strong emotional notes in both wins and losses. I won’t give away the ending, but ultimately MUDBLOODS was never about winning. Quidditch as a sport is overwhelmingly positive and supportive, and this really does translate to a remarkable atmosphere and relationship between the teams. They all compete incredibly fiercely (Quidditch is a rough sport, and some of the hard tackles caught on film will make you wince in sympathy), but are just as fierce in their admiration for each other, in victory and in defeat.

And if there’s one thing MUDBLOODS really, really nails, it’s the way Quidditch, like all things Potter, brings people together and unites them under a spirit of non-judgmental community. The UCLA Bruins, by the end of the film, seem much more like a family than just a team, and it makes it that much more inspiring to watch them go and put their dreams on the line together. And while they well and truly are dedicated athletes, this quote from Captain Tom Marks really sums up the beauty of it all- “We can’t lose the fact that we’re running around on damn broomsticks. That’s the truth of this. We’re playing Quidditch.”

Here’s to that. Despite its faults, MUDBLOODS is an exciting and heartwarming film, and definitely recommended for Potter fans. The film is coming out October 14th, and will be available online at, and if you use the code LEAKY, you can get $1 off the price of admission. Not bad, right? After you’ve watched the film, leave your thoughts in the comments! I really want to know what other people think of this one.

The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.