Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fly: The Review

By Ajantha Abey

Editor’s Note: Ajantha Abey, of Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography, is the Visuals Director for the Quidditch Post, spent the 2015-16 season playing in the UK, and attended the IQA World Cup in Frankfurt.

If you were looking for a wonderful documentary that perfectly captures the magic and wonder of quidditch, Fly: Journey to Frankfurt, is not it. Fly is not here to tell the story of the game's origins, its fictional background, its worldly realisation, or its growth into a global community. Fly is about athletes and their journeys as sportspeople trying to achieve gold at the first proper Quidditch World Cup, and it tells that story magnificently. The gritty aesthetic in the title logo gives it away. There is no sugar coating on the dedication, desperation, determination, and heartbreak in the sport that Fly captures ― a sport that just happens to be quidditch.

Fly logo | Image courtesy of Triple Hoops Films

Fly: Journey to Frankfurt is a documentary created by Jennie Grimes and Caroline Taylor, of Triple Hoops Films, and the film follows the journey of TeamUK to the IQA World Cup 2016 in Frankfurt, Germany. At the outset, we are introduced to a couple of players from the team talking about what quidditch means to them, followed by introductions to the various members of TeamUK leadership over the course of the selections and training process. The first third of the movie does a good job of establishing who the main characters for the rest of the film are going to be: Head Coach Ashley Cooper, Coach Emily Oughtibridge, Captain Ben Morton, player and TeamUK Coordinator Tom Heynes, and player Jackie Woodburn. It also neatly builds and captures the anticipation and aspirations of players and coaches as selections go past and Frankfurt draws nearer. The brief explanation of the basics of quidditch accompanied by game and training footage is also effective, giving a good summary of the rules for the uninitiated without being too tedious for current players.

One point of interest is the simultaneous tracking of the preparations for World Cup by Tournament Director Matthew Guenzel and the Quidditch Uganda crowdfunding campaign. This storyline fits in somewhat awkwardly with the rest of the more sport-focused film, and it is interesting to note that Uganda is the only other country whose team receives any particular emphasis in the film. Similarly, Guenzel is the only personality featured who is not a part of TeamUK. It nevertheless helps to break up the constant sports and coaches footage, something the Frankfurt section lacks, and provides an interesting insight into the organisation behind the upcoming tournament, serving to build that anticipation. The interviews with Guenzel show that determination, desperation, dedication, and heartbreak are not only exhibited by the players, but are integral aspects to both sides of the sport.  

Grimes and Taylor filming at the World Cup opening ceremony | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography

Fly really hits its groove when things get to Frankfurt, and Jennie Grimes and Caroline Taylor demonstrate that they are truly two of the best quidditch videographers in the world. Speaking as a photographer, experience has taught me that much of capturing quidditch comes down to lucky positioning, but it is truly impressive and a testament to the skill and experience of the team behind Triple Hoops Films that the two of them get superb footage of virtually every single snitch catch in all of TeamUK's matches, not to mention the best footage of the grand final-winning snitch catch I have seen (unfortunately relegated to a deleted scene). Grimes and Taylor’s hard work and practice, filming at various tournaments in the lead up to Frankfurt, serve them well and pay off in the production of superb-quality sports footage of every aspect of the game. There can be no second takes when filming live sport, and the pair nail every unmissable moment, immortalising all the instances of glory and heartbreak for TeamUK in equal measure. Amy Pezet's original soundtrack is an asset to the film, balancing being subtle and unobtrusive, while still effectively accentuating the atmosphere of the moment. The integration of the live commentary into the footage to serve this same goal is also masterful.

The game after game after game format of the latter two thirds of the film was always going to feel repetitious, especially with the "Who's going to win today?" chant repeated every single time. Grimes and Taylor, however, do a good job of breaking things up as best they can, building up through the games to the climactic semifinal against USA, and then the redemption third place playoff against Canada. Particularly effective is the close following of chaser Jackie Woodburn's story through training and selections and into Frankfurt, only to come to an abrupt and tear-jerking end due to injury in the first game of the tournament. The focus on Coach Emily Oughtibridge's personal story around the USA game is also incredibly moving, and at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, the inclusion of the series of brief interviews with the various TeamUK seekers, on a high following successful catches, was a stroke of genius.

Caroline Taylor films at World Cup | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography

Quibbles about the film can only be minor. It would have been nice, for example, to hear more from the players themselves, rather than focusing largely on the coaches and captain, with occasional quips from the players. Once we arrive at Frankfurt, the film is almost entirely focused on TeamUK, with little to say or show about any of the other teams or the general atmosphere of the tournament. Even shots of the spectators are sparse, nor was the supporters' picnic on the preceding Friday particularly focused on at all as part of the journey to Frankfurt. I can only assume that these decisions were made because of time constraints on the film, and in the case of the latter, the supporter simply not being a focus of the documentary. While the highlights footage from the games themselves is spectacular, there is only a limited sense of continuity within the montages of individual games, making the storylines of particular games hard to follow, even to someone who knows how the games played out. There is only a limited sense of whether a game is close, and what stage of the game we’re in, during the highlights reels. Especially in games such as the USA semifinals, where the UK was able to put 20 points on the board early, only for the USA to come back stronger, or against Canada where it started out close before the UK was able to blow the game out in their favour, it feels like a certain aspect of in-game storytelling and drama is lost.

Nevertheless, one of the great things about Fly as a sports movie is that while it tells a great story, it is still exceptionally real. The aspiration of beating the USA and making the World Cup finals is never realised, and to anyone who knows that this is the outcome from the beginning, it makes all the times the determination to achieve this dream is expressed all the more painful. After losing their first game as a team to Canada, however, everything comes full circle at the end with TeamUK’s redemption rematch, with a podium finish at stake. The warm conclusion is accentuated by the well-deserved awarding of Head Coach Ashley Cooper with Team World status. Overall, it thus makes for an excellent story. One of the other elements of the film that I particularly enjoyed was the insight into the team huddles before and after games and trainings, and gaining insight into the different pep talks before big games or after major losses.  As a photographer, one thing I love trying to capture is the incredible focus and intensity of emotion you see in pregame huddles, and Fly achieves this in brilliant fashion.

Ben Morton rallies team and crowd before the UK-Canada third place play off | Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography

Fly therefore makes for an excellent meld of superb storytelling and expert videography. Taylor and Grimes ply their craft in such a professional manner you could never guess this was a crowdfunded project done in their spare time — and where they find the time to produce so much quality is a magic I will never be able to grasp. Fly is a technically excellent presentation of a complicated sport, and a great tale of some incredibly dedicated athletes. If you haven't already seen it, you need to.

Fly: Journey to Frankfurt, with video extras including Aus-USA finals highlights and other deleted scenes, behind the scenes, photographs, and more, can be bought and downloaded from the Triple Hoops Films website.

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