How A Once Fictitious Sport Can Unite The World
(and a glowing review of Brizzlepuffs The Dossumentary directed by Sonia Wargacka)
First a relevant quote:
Mr. Maclay: This is insane. You people have no right to interfere with Tara’s affairs. We are her blood kin! Who the hell are you?
Buffy Summers: We’re family.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 5, Episode 6
I will nail my colours to the mast in sentence number two. I am the father of a young man whose life has been transformed and immeasurably enriched by a new and burgeoning sport. The 25 minute short film outlining the creation of one of the teams he plays for is one of the most inspirational and uplifting films I have seen for a long time and I have been active in the film and television business for 35 years. Prepare for major brine leakage. There’s a link to this film at the end of this piece.
First, a little history. There are several names that need to be justifiably celebrated. First of all, everything starts with Jo. Joanne Kathleen Rowling (the ‘Kathleen’ borrowed from her paternal grandmother) created a magical universe in which wizards play their own aerial sport on broomsticks with a relatively complex set of rules which was brought to stunning life by the filmmakers of the billion dollar Harry Potter franchise. Impossible to emulate in the Muggle World, right? Not quite. The sport of ‘Muggle Quidditch’ was created in 2005 at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, by Xander Manshel and Alex Benepe. And unlike the participants on makeshift brooms, it really took off. One of the most inspiring aspects of the game is the ‘Four Maximum’ rule which directly specifies that no more than four players on a team of seven can identify as the same gender regardless of that person’s biological sex. This is a stroke of genius beautifully reflecting the growing diversity of the human being and at once making the sport so inclusive, it almost feels like an ever-expanding global peace initiative.
At my first experience of spectating in Oxford on a grey, rainy, windswept day, there was a palpable and overwhelming sense of joy in the atmosphere that I would have been hard pressed to recall at any similar event. It seemed that every gender, biological or self-assigned, every nationality, every religion and every body shape were well represented (name a sport you could say that about) and the overall feeling of belonging was evident even in the queue to the food lorry. Yes, there were sides that took things seriously (it is a sport with winners and losers after all) but the one side that played with unbridled passion regardless if Felis Felicis was ingested by their side or their opponents was Bristol’s extraordinary Brizzlepuffs. I have never been so impressed by the commitment and solidarity shown by the members of this particular team and on this, my first exposure to the game, I could not believe how wonderfully friendly and inclusive the whole experience was.
The film has captured that inclusivity and love and if this blog/review prompts one person to seek out a place in a similar team in their university, it will have been more than worthwhile. This is the stuff we all should be spreading. This is the stuff that counters small minds, dismisses hate and weeds out paranoia. For some of the team members with health issues, it’s been, if not a cure, then certainly a path to well being. This is what life can be and should be like. I’m having a Beatles moment… “Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game, it’s easy…” Hope you’re old enough or culturally aware enough to know that particular chorus. Hint; “All you need is…”
Sonia Wargacka’s film tells of the formation of the Brizzlepuffs from one remarkable young man’s tireless efforts and it’s told from his perspective. Team captain Tom Ower is our guide throughout the film and he provides the context and the commentary on the significant formation of a team that in the pre-Harry Potter world simply could not have existed. Rugby and soccer could not have united these people. Cricket, netball or hockey would be gender bent to one or the other ignoring the rest. Only the remarkable mind that came up with the ‘Four Maximum’ rule could form a team that would never have been given a chance to work and play together. And I would love to hear whose idea that was so I could celebrate them too, Xander and Alex? I have to mention that the funeral service in the film was a piece of inspiration (how often does anyone get to say that?) and hilarious to boot. With the world the way it is at the moment, we are being told that apathy has won and chaos and disharmony is right around the corner if not with us right now. This is the film and these are the people who prove that world view challenged. I honestly think that Muggle Quidditch is a significant force for good in the world. To get to the movie sooner rather than later, here are a few name checks and then I won’t keep you any longer.
A profound thank you to…
Isabella Aston, with Tom, for starting the team, Matthew Nugent for building the bespoke equipment and then falling for the game’s charms, Alistair Goodwin for the statement “Do you want to play Quidditch? And that’s not a question you can say no to!”, Paul Goodwin, Alistair’s Dad who was essentially me in hairline, attitude and wonder. There’s Gabby Fitzgerald with the line “All it takes is one guy with a crazy idea…” Sam Senior on being thrashed by Warwick “… but that didn’t affect us.” Sophie McKenzie with “Losing isn’t the end of the world,” and Sam again with the defining statement of the movie… “You don’t want to be the best but the team that has fun.” Then there’s the bravery of Nicole Wooton-Cane opening up about her anorexia and how “joining the Quidditch teams is a massive sign of how far I’ve come in my recovery.” Muggle Quidditch on the NHS, anyone? James ‘Jesus’ Burnett, Vice President of Quidditch UK saying about the team “They bring out the best side of Quidditch”. Thanks to referee Zoe Ford giving us serious Brizzlepuff game play appreciation, Kieran Harris letting Quidditch introduce him to a wider world (and his comment about how countries smell differently is a spot on observation). There’s Luke Stevens musing on how remarkable it is to be able to play on an international level, Steve Fung just excited to be playing at that level too, and Au Thomas for his extraordinary and moving speech embodying everything magical about this sport and those who play it. Finally to the director (and camera person and editor?) Sonia Wargacka for such an affecting piece of work. I salute you.
Ladies and Gents, I give you Muggle Quidditch and specifically, The Brizzlepuffs…
P.S. If there was just one thing I’d do differently (and I am an amateur film reviewer after all but more importantly a professional film editor), there’s that very first shot of a large chap taking what I know is a playful swing of his broom at a fellow player… If you know nothing of the sport and this is the first image you see, you may think that it’s not as uniquely friendly and inclusive as I’ve said it is. Having said all that, he has a huge smile on his face so maybe I’ll shut up now.