words Zarah Cheng
Mudbloods is a film about Quidditch. And if you don’t know what Quidditch is, then you probably either grew up under a rock or are a Muggle. But whether you’ve mastered the art of Accio Firebolt-ing or only refer to Harry Potter as that British kid who is friends with Emma Watson, you’re going to want to watch Mudbloods. Farzad Sangari’s exploration of the not so secret lives of college Quidditch players is an inspiration. The film takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions as Sangari follows the UCLA Quidditch team on their journey towards the Quidditch World Cup. From fighting to validate the sport, to dealing with haters, to coming together as a team, Mudbloods is an achievement in taking viewers on a path of self-discovery, accepting who you are, and showing this to the world.
CREEP: What made you want to create a documentary about Quidditch?
Farzad Sangari: Initially, it was just the idea of Quidditch, taking something fictional/inherently impossible to adapt and turning it into something real. But the more time I spent with the people who make up the sport (not just the players, but organizers and fans), the more I was attracted to the people who make up this community.
In three words, describe your first experience witnessing Quidditch at UCLA.
What. The. Fuck.
Music played a huge part for me while I was watching the film. The score that Kevin Matley wrote just felt so epic! How did you work with him in creating music that would set the mood of the film?
Kevin IS epic! The score was indeed a huge part of the film and Kevin was unbelievably crucial to the film. I knew we needed music that would drive the second half of the film, so we started by trying to create small pieces that captured the games at the World Cup. Once we had a palette to work with, we moved into other areas of the film, trying to shape the entire score into a cohesive whole. It was difficult because this was the first feature length film for both of us, so there was a lot of trial and error. But when I initially decided to work with Kevin, it was because his past work was so unique and original - just like Quidditch. I needed someone whose approach matched the content. Fortunately for me, besides being a very talented and innovative musician, Kevin is also an extremely generous and patient human being.
For me (and most twenty-somethings), Harry Potter was an enormous part of my childhood. How has the response towards Mudbloods been so far from a generation that grew up with the books and movies?
In general, the response to the film has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly among the HP generation. Yet I think it’s important to note that Quidditch players don’t see themselves as an extension of the books/films in the way people might think. They see what they’re doing as undoubtedly connected to the series, but also as something distinct. This was something I also found surprising, and it was a big challenge presenting the sport as something simultaneously connected to, yet separate, from this massive cultural phenomenon.
Katie Aiani, who was voted the #1 Harry Potter fan by Box Office Magazine, plays an important part in the film. She basically embodies the fanaticism often associated with diehard fandoms. Were you ever concerned that including Katie in the film, as an extreme of the Harry Potter fandom, would take away from Tom [Marks] and Sebastian [Milla]’s goal to show Quidditch as a sport not just for “a bunch of geeks”?
For me, it was always important to include Katie because I didn’t want to just show the team. I wanted to show a range of elements that make up the Quidditch community; so not just the team trying to get to and win the World Cup, but also Alex (Benepe) putting the tournament together, and finally someone like Katie who flies across the country on her own dime to support Quidditch. If I did a documentary on basketball (or some other already accepted sport), I probably wouldn’t spend time opening up the story in this way. Those sports already exist so you don’t have to demonstrate that there are basketball leagues or basketball fans.
Moreover, I feel Katie’s presence also provides context for the massive impact Harry Potter has had on our culture and this specific generation. She’s an expert on it in ways that Tom and Alex simply are not because of their respective levels of interest in the series. And I think some of the things that make Harry Potter so popular, such as sacrifice and friendship, translate into team sports. Katie speaks to all of those things (and more). In the end, I see a lot of similarities between the passion she has for her fandom and for her individual happiness, and the passion with which Tom runs his team, and the passion with which Alex pursues the growth of Quidditch.
Do you feel that the perception of Quidditch as a sport has changed since more people have watched Mudbloods?
After all of our screenings, people come up to me and say they didn’t expect to see something so competitive and intense. I think it’s hard to watch these dedicated, talented athletes putting themselves on the line for each other and not think it is a real sport.
I actually got kind of emotional during the World Cup Opening Ceremony scene, when all the teams came into the stadium. It was the turning point of the film for me, to see all these people coming together and creating this amazing world when everyone else said that it wasn’t possible. What was the turning point of the film for you?
That was obviously a high point, especially for Alex’s storyline. Everything he had been going through in trying to make the tournament happen comes together in that moment with all the teams. There are a lot of those moments for me, personally. I couldn’t pick just one. But I think a transformative moment for the viewer is when UCLA plays Middlebury at the end of the first day. There are going to be people who will never accept Quidditch as a real sport. But for everyone else, there’s a point (if they watch the movie) when they undoubtedly will. For someone who plays Quidditch, that moment is the first frame of the film. But for others, I think that moment will be different, depending on their connection to sports, or to Harry Potter or to whatever. That in itself is interesting for me as a filmmaker, but when UCLA lines up against Middlebury for the first time, I think it’s difficult for anyone not to think, “Oh shit, this is about to go down!”
I was shocked at how unforgiving the boys were while tackling the girls. How would you describe the gender dynamics among the Quidditch players?
Quidditch is a true co-ed sport. Unlike a lot of sports that are co-ed, there are not separate rules for the different genders. Consequently, it’s a level playing field. What I found was that girls want to play physical sports in the same way boys do. What I also saw was that oftentimes, the girls were just as good as the boys, and many times they were better.
Mudbloods delivers a really profound message of self-discovery and acceptance that it is OK to go against the grain. Was this a message that developed during production or was it something you were hoping to establish from the beginning?
Those were things that I was hoping to draw out from the beginning, and particularly after I heard Sebastian rap about Quidditch for the first time. The thing with doing this kind of documentary is that you’re relatively reliant on the people in them to express these ideas. Fortunately, I happened to stumble upon a very communicative, very confident group of creative individuals who were able to express those ideas in a variety of ways.
What was your favourite memory from creating this film?
It’s hard to choose one, but the entire weekend in New York during the World Cup was something I will never forget.
I love how Tom admits at the end of the film that he’s only halfway through the third Harry Potter book, even though he’s the captain and founder of the UCLA Quidditch team. From meeting so many people while filming, were most Quidditch players fans of the series or just curious about a new sport?
I was surprised to find that there was a wide range, from players who were fans to some who were just drawn to the newness of the sport. There were also a lot of people in the middle of those two camps. But regardless of their previous experience with the series, the people who tended to stick with the sport were able to see it as its own autonomous thing.
Were you a fan of Harry Potter before you started filming?
I saw the movies, but didn’t read the books.
Which Hogwarts house would you get sorted into?
Missy (Sponagle) and Alex (Browne) from the team just gave me this awesome sorting hat that they made for me. When I put it on, it said I was a Bruin!
What creeps you out the most?
Well, I creeped myself out the other night when I was sleeping. I was dreaming that I was at a party with a friend, but somehow I got separated from her. Suddenly I’m driving so I text her, “hey where are you ...”. Then I was woken up by my phone because she texted me. It was my LOST HIGHWAY moment.